SodaCanyonRoad | My unsent Caves letter

My unsent Caves letter

Bill Hocker | Apr 20, 2015 on: The Caves at Soda Canyon

Members of the Planning Commission,

Protect Rural Napa requests that you not recognize and not allow the unpermitted construction done on the Napa Custom Crush site on Soda Canyon Road. We also ask you to deny the request for wine consumption on the unpermitted terraces.

While public concern over variances and exceptions has become a regular issue in the planning commission hearings, granting approval for construction after the fact rather than through the normal permitting process sets an even worse precedent. Developers will take from this approval that it is better to seek forgiveness for zoning violations than to seek permission.

We would be interested to know why the portal and its terraces were not a part of the original plans. The cave extension leading to the portal was always a part of the project, and was obviously made for just this purpose - so why wasn't the actual portal and the terraces and paths leading to it a part of the original project?

Could it be that including these additions in the original plans would have triggered concerns with the viewshed ordinance? The new terraces (much larger than the 100sf indicated on the plan) are right on the ridge and any structure or activities with their noise and light impacts will probably be visible from the Trail. The portal and its terraces are on a steep slope which also might have triggered the viewshed ordinance.

Anything happening on this particular ridge, perhaps the most picturesque and iconic of all the ridges in the Napa Valley, should have been a subject of great concern for the planning department and the commission when the project was originally submitted, just as it should be now. At the very least this project should be returned to the planning department and commission for review in light of the new conditions relating and their impacts.

Beyond the illegal construction, the potential new impacts, and the noise emitted by its generator, this winery has another negative significance for the residents of Soda Canyon Road. It represents one of two event centers granted permission, during a period of heightened accommodation to winery development, to use our neighborhood, on a dead-end road, up a steep driveway, solely to attract tourists to our remote locale. For us, it merely represents an increase in traffic and the commercialization, proclaimed probably by a lighted sign at the driveway, of our residential-agricultural community.

Perhaps the county has now begun to sense how intrusive these tourism operations are to our communities by considering their own feelings toward the possibility of casinos coming into the county. The visceral sense of a paradise being violated is the same. The sensitivity of residents to non-agricultural uses (using the normal definition of agriculture) in their neighborhoods has become a flashpoint throughout the county, and we hope that it will be given much greater importance in the upcoming discussions around the WDO.

In the meantime, the denial of this request might send a significant signal that the county is capable, when willful violations are committed, to enforce to its regulations. This winery was built, we suspect, solely for the view from that 4th portal and those terraces. To risk their denial at the outset of the process was to risk being denied the reason to be there in the first place. Better to build and ask for forgiveness. We hope that such a strategy is not going to be rewarded here.