The tourism winery that we face on Soda Canyon Road is just one of many projects being proposed around the county. Each has specific issues that are of concern: winery tourism expansion, traffic, water depletion, deforestation. But they are all a result of the continuous influx of more development into Napa County, something that might be labeled under the more benign term 'growth'. I will begin here to link to surrounding projects such as Yountville Hill, Woolls Ranch, Raymond, St. Helena and any other place that these developments may arise. The community groups currently battling the intrusion of developments into their neighborhoods are below.
Begun initially as the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Land Stewardship Foundation, concerned with the threats posed to the Soda Cnyon Road community, Protect Rural Napa is now an advocate for all rural communities in the county impacted by urban development.
The members of the Circle Oaks community that will be surrounded by the Walt Ranch Vineyard Conversion and residents of Atlas Peak and Montecello Roads, Watersheds Alliance for Atlas Peak (WAAP), who will also be affected by the traffic and water impacts have formed an effective coalition to oppose the project.
SUPERVISORS COMPLETE DECADE-LONG PROCESS FOR -- LAND-USE DESIGNATION IN ANGWIN
In a 4 - 1 vote at their December 20, 2016 meeting, the Supervisors agreed to keep the "Green Fields" GREEN in Angwin! This open space area adjacent to Conn Creek and north of the ball fields is considered the heart of the Angwin basin, a key to the rural character of the community.
At the December 20, public meeting, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution completing an amendment to the Napa County General Plan to change the approximately 16 acres of the area located southwest of the intersection of Howell Mountain Road and Angwin Avenue from Urban Residential to Agriculture, Watershed, and Open Space (AWOS). This is a decision Save Rural Angwin (SRA) has been working for since 2006!
The decision by the Board of Supervisors completes the General Plan Update process that began in 2006 and ended in 2009 with completion in all parts of the County except the Angwin area, which was being targeted by Pacific Union College (PUC) and an associated developer, Triad, for an urban residential and commercial development called the Ecovillage. There had been widespread resistance to this development in the community, led by SRA. The County opted to hold out the lands that PUC wished to develop until their Ecovillage plan could be presented to the county in final form for evaluation. The Ecovillage plan was subsequently dropped, but PUC still wanted time to come up with their college master plan, and the County was taken up with other concerns such as repercussions of the earthquake and other matters. Thus, it was not until late 2016 that the Angwin issue was again able to find its way onto the Supervisors' agenda.
Ultimately, on December 20, 2016, four of the five supervisors agreed that they had given the college enough time and flexibility to update their 40+-year-old master plan. Since the college still did not have a plan to put forward, the Supervisors denied yet another request for more time from PUC, and they decided that a designation of AWOS for the green fields would be the best "starting point" for any future college plans. The College should be able to determine its future, but any plans should include input from the community, with a focus on the value of open space to Napa County.
Prior to the December 20 meeting, SRA met with PUC representatives several times. We were able to compromise on a mix of AWOS, Public Institutional and a small Urban Residential area for the lands near the airport and co-generation plant. PUC backed off their desire to have all the held-out 100 acres, including the Green Fields, remain Urban Residential. After these meetings, only the Green Fields remained contested, with the College requesting Public Institutional, SRA supporting AWOS. On December 20, Save Rural Angwin and the Angwin community prevailed.
The Save Rural Angwin Steering Committee hopes sincerely that this decision spurs the PUC Board of Trustees and leadership to see the open space in the Green Fields with new eyes and value it for its rural character and riparian importance to everyone on and off campus.
I have come across a story in the Napa Valley Register in 1985. That was 31 years ago. In those days, Napa County planners expected Angwin to become a city. But times were changing and those who looked ahead realized that a larger population in a remote community that had no jobs for newcomers was not a good idea. Almost everyone would have to commute to St. Helena, or join the traffic jam to Napa or Santa Rosa.
In addition, Angwin does not have the infrastructure to support growth. Half the households depend on a private well and a septic system in the back of the property. There are only a few feet of sidewalks. No doctor's office. No bus service to anywhere.
So in 1985, the five county supervisors said, "Time to turn the page, Joe." They looked at 4,566 acres in Angwin and Deer Park, which were zoned mostly for new subdivisions and they voted unanimously to change that zoning to agriculture.
The Register reported that "Chairman Mel Varrelman praised the rezonings as conforming to slow-growth wishes of Angwin and Deer Park residents." Supervisor Jay Goetting agreed. The basic feeling -- almost unanimity -- is that the rezoning plan is a very good one," he said.
A few days ago, the county supervisors considered that a small area of Pacific Union College land in the heart of the village had been in agriculture for more than a hundred years and by a vote of 4 to l, they erased its obsolete designation for urbanization. The vote was for just about 16 acres, but almost everyone is celebrating.
Particularly the supporters of Save Rural Angwin, who now see a safer future for that mountain-top community.
There could not have been more joy after the decision in 1985 saving 4,566 acres than this one protecting just 16.
A few years ago, the college wanted to build 580 houses on the land surrounding the campus, including the 16 acres for which the supervisors have now said, "No, Joe." So we must shout "Thank you" to the planners and elected officials who wrote another chapter in a long struggle that began 31 years ago.
Wine regions all over the state are running into the same concerns that the residents of Napa have long had - a wine industry drunk on tourism and rural communities being turned into tourist skid rows.
The feeling is universal: the wine industry is supported when it is seen as contributing to and enhancing a livable community. It is opposed when it is seen as a destroyer. The conversion of the wine industry into an entertainment industry diminishes the value and quality of life that is the treasure of living in a rural community in an urban world.
Note in the long, Jan 2013, article, "A tale of two valleys", that Rex Stults of the Napa Valley Vintners holds up our 2010 WDO as an example of the success of winery rules. A year later Napa Valley residents began to explode over the same tourism impacts that Santa Barbara was reacting to.
There is a cautionary tale in the drop off of community involvement in the last Santa Barbara meeting. After 4 years of meetings it is those who stand to make money rather than those trying to protect their neighborhoods that still have the energy to show up. Protecting a rural community against the constant pressure of development money is an eternal task.
Pacific Union College seems to never stop roiling the peace and serenity of the community that has settled around it. Like all educational institutions, I suppose, they need money. But they have a lot of land. Thus, much of the rural character that the college has provided for the residents of Angwin over the last century is now for sale, to be converted to something less rural. Angwin residents have battled for years over the prospect of new housing projects in their midst. Sometimes with success. Sometimes not, as in the 2012 measure U. The housing issue is scheduled come up again in the near future. But this time it's a few big homes homes and a lot of forest clear cutting for vines, on $10 million properties destined for 5 plutocrats of the world needing a wine label of their own.
Norma Tofanelli's President's Report, on pg. 5, highlights statistics that Planning Director Morrison recently presented to the Planning Commission and APAC. Napa County has permitted 6 times as much production capacity as is needed for the entire Napa grape crop. Where do the grapes come from to fill that capacity? Somewhere else. Is the name Napa on the label of every bottle of wine produced in Napa County? Of course. The Napa brand will be soon become meaningless as a guarantor of quality wine to all but a handful of aficionados knowledgable in the nuances of TTB labeling. And the reputation of the brand will sink.
Update July 17, 2015: The BOS findings were to be finalized at their July 14th meeting but, after Supervisor Dillon put on her lawyer hat and began going through the nitty gritty of the findings pointing out unnecessary legal references, inconsistencies and substantive errors and taking legal staff and planning staff to task. In particular the finding directing the applicant to encourage the use of Silverado Trail, and the inconsistency of temporary use permit findings were called out. The approval of findings required postponing the finalization of findings and use permit until July 21st. The findings as as redlined after this meeting are here. The final Melka use permit is here
Update June 3, 2015: NVR: Supervisors deadlock paves way for Melka Winery
In a long, punishing hearing the Melkas had their use-permit upheld. They were punished by a county attitude that has changed in the course of the permit process, by community opposition (including this site) that has grown highly critical of winery proliferation and the county's lax enforcement attitude, by a neighbor that has exploited their situation to his own gain, and now by vitriol in the comments to the article above. The winery proposed is small, the visitation low, the developer a hands-on winemaker committed to his craft, living on the site. Putting aside the variance (the winery is an extension of a building already there) and the finagling of a lot-line to create a 10 acre parcel (the most egregious of the Melksa's actions), this is the type of wine maker that needs to prosper in the county. The Titus winery across the street, 2.5 times the capacity, 14 times the visitation, also a setback variance, 3 acres of vineyard removal, large parking lot, a blot on a very nice view of the napa valley, and now a nasty exploitation of a neighbor's plight, had no issues with its permit. (In fact this NVR article didn't even mention the Titus approval in its report on contested Castelucci approval given the same day.) Such a difference a year makes.
Phillipe and Cherie Melka hope to build a winery on the Silverado Trail just north of Deer Park Rd. The 10+ acre parcel was created by lot-line adjustment to enable the minimum needed for a winery, much to the consternation of the other neighbor who sold the property thinking that a commercial winery would not be possible.
The "dream" of a young winemaker (an issue at the APAC meetings) has run into the "new normal" of the use-permit process. The parcel is so small and constrained that a large variance is required into the 600' setback from the Trail, and variances have become a hot button issue. The planning commission approved the use permit on Mar 4th.
Now, Eric Titus, owner of the new winery across the street and a supporter of the Melka use permit, has appealed to force Melka to chip in for mitigated left turn lane they were required to build for their winery. (I suddenly had the urge to look up the word "duplicitous".)
In addition, a public interest appeal by Ginny Simms has been filed contesting many aspects of the use permit including the variance.
Volker's vision was ag/watershed preservation….. for vines….to prevent houses in rural watersheds-I am not thrilled about this mantra-I want to see watershed protection zoning for the public health safety and welfare
Lot line adjustments is the preamble to housing developments-once the contractors get this it is the green light from the lead agency that the developer the beginnings of an understood development agreement hence he is vested and can give him a powerful legal position that the city agrees with the plan for 191 houses
I am opposing the Bell Winery expansion.
I object to an out-of-compliance winery being brought into compliance by expanding their use permit. mNot only does it set a bad precedent for other wineries
but as Andy Beckstoffer's letter to the Board of Supervisors of April 29 of this year states, by exceeding a use permit a winery skirts the CEQA analysis tied to that use permit and also nullifies any baseline for proper analysis.
By exceeding the use permit in the first place, CEQA would have ALREADY been violated. If the mission of CEQA is to protect our environment and in doing so also protects the health and safety of our citizens, and if the mission of the County of Napa is dedicated to preserving agriculture and the environment and to providing leadership and services to advance the health, safety and economic well-being of current and future generations, and if the health, welfare and safety of our citizens has ALREADY been compromised by this exceeded use permit and skirting of CEQA, whether by over-visitation or overuse of chemicals or excessive depletion of water or whatever, do we not owe it to our citizens to determine the extent of the damage ALREADY incurred by skirting CEQA before we consider allowing more?
Considering these variables a more exhaustive CEQA analysis must be done on this proposal, perhaps an EIR, certainly a more thorough analysis of possible impacts to neighboring properties must be done by the proposed expansion of a business model of a heavy visitation, value-added winery/event center scheme such as this, that is by it's very nature is disruptive to it's neighborhood and the environment.
Considering the proximity of Native American Burial sites on Hopper Creek, an archeological consultant should be brought in BEFORE project approval to determine if there is archeological significance to the area. Again, damage may have already occurred due to exceeding of the current use permit.
More traffic analysis is needed. The traffic study is inadequate considering the increased vehicular visitation along a country lane in proximity to an out of the ordinary type of intersection with access to Hwy 29, including increased tour bus traffic along a country lane. It's not clear how many buses and how big those buses will be. The noise and carbon emissions for these buses entering, exiting and idling could be substantial.
There also needs to be analysis of the impacts from the trucking in of grapes, not only in terms of traffic flow, but also impact on our county roads which are maintained by the citizens dollar.
Also there is a strong argument that we already have enough capacity to process Napa Valley grapes, we don't need to add more processing capacity.
Also regarding traffic - The increased vehicular traffic to an alcohol-based hospitality center will certainly increase drunk driving on that road, an increase also in the chances for neighbors to be involved in an alcohol-related traffic fatality.
The current exceeding of the use permit would have already increased those chances.
The water analysis needs to be clarified and more exhaustive.
If as a 20,000 gallon winery with no landscaping they were using 6.28 acre feet, there are questions as to how a 60,000 gallon, heavily landscaped winery could get by on 6.14 acre feet. We need to see more data on that.
There also needs to be more information about the well.
Also, once again, due to exceeding of the current use permit, any assessment would have been made with no idea what the true baseline is.
ADDITIONALLY we are in the midst of a 3 year extreme draught with Sierra snow packs at record low levels. It is unfair to citizens and other business owners to increase permits, particularly in relation to hospitality uses, when we simply have no idea how long our water will last.
Considering they are planning an augmented outdoor hospitality program a more adequate Noise Study must be done.
Certainly "partying" or "educational marketing events" on an outdoor bocce court while drinking wine would add significant temporary or periodic increases in ambient noise levels in the project vicinity above levels existing without the project. Perhaps the education elements could occur in an indoor area where they would have less impact on the neighbors.
Events going until 9pm with cleanup until 10 will create disruptive noise in the neighborhood and diminish quality of lit for the neighbors.
Noise studies must be done to determine CEQA standards will not be violated by decibel levels traveling past the property line.
There are other questions/concerns about the Bocce court, whether approval was for use by family and employees and/or for the general public.
The increase in production will also likely add to the noise level with added forklift back-up beeping, winery chiller noise, etc.
Lighting also is a problem with events going until 9pm and clean-up until 10 pm.
This is a rural country lane away from the lights of town.
Glare from lighting alone could create a disruption to the ambience of life in the neighborhood. Combined with noise and wine consumption from nighttime marketing events this could be very disruptive.
We need more clarification on visitation. While the new number of marketing events appear considerably lower than the astronomical 212 originally proposed, there needs to be more clarification on the actual visitation numbers as it seems to be falling between 13,000 and 16,000 with remaining questions as to how/when that is to be manifested. There are concerns that the asked for visitation numbers are higher than for other wineries of its size.
Also the process for determining the visitation levels needs to be re-examined in both in the using of other wineries to create averages and whether initial visitation proposals were over- inflated to make the current ask appear more reasonable by comparison. It is unclear what we are actually looking at here and what those impacts would be.
This increased visitation also creates a further urbanization of our rural areas and the adding of a commercial kitchen further distorts the original intent of the Ag Preserve by in effect transforming an Ag/residential zone into one of heavy, commercial visitation.
I also argue that the 2010 WDO changes that have allowed the proliferation of this type of event center winery were misrepresented to the public and should be made void.
Further analysis must be done on this project to determine the extent that quality-of-life for neighbors will be affected as well the effects on neighboring property values.
I believe there is an inherent inequity when one property owner seeks to maximize profits on his own property without proper regard for impacts to neighboring properties and community USING OUR SHARED COMMON RESOURCES such as roads, water et. to this end.
Questions have also been raised as to who is the actual owner of this project.
Expansion of this use permit would add to the Cumulative Impacts we are experiencing due to development in Napa County. Development that impacts the health, welfare and safety of our entire community.
Cumulative Impacts in Napa County need to be addressed now, projects in Napa County cannot be designed in a vacuum. Analysis must be done on all Cumulative Impacts from projects such as this, including such things as impact to emergency vehicle response times and green house gas emissions .
No new winery approvals or expansions should be awarded until we undergo a countywide assessment of Cumulative Impacts already incurred .
No new winery approvals or expansions should be awarded until we design a cohesive, coordinated, integrated plan for our county and municipalities to work together to minimize these Cumulative Impacts.
If the Planning Commision believes they need additional tools to deny this permit I would suggest:
California Government code on Conditional Use Permits - Nuisance Standard:
"Any use found to be objectionable or incompatible with the character of the city and its environs due to noise, dust, odors or other undesirable characteristics may be prohibited" (Snow v. City of Garden Grove (1961) Cal.App.2d 496).
General Welfare Standard:
"The establishment, maintenance or conducting of the use for which a use permit is sought will not, under the particular case, be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property or improvements in the neighborhood" (Hawkins v. County of Marin (1976) 54 Cal.App.3d 586).
Doesn't this project again raise the grape sourcing question? A 50% increase in capacity. Is that the standard? Where is the 50% increase in the grape crop? I hope that a temporary contract to buy grapes out from under someone else is not the justification for a permanent increase in capacity.
And then there is the tourism. 50% to 600% (depending on paragraph) increase in tours & tastings that can now be lunch. 1300% increase in marketing that can be lunch and dinner (only 14 parking spaces?). New commercial kitchen, hospitality employees, water system, wastewater system, no restriction on busses, film festival, music events. Over 30,000 visitors/yr This is yet another poster child for the transition from an agricultural to a tourism economy.
Half of the wineries on the staff size-comparable winery list are under 5000 visitors/year - 15% of this request. 84% of the wineries on the list have less than half the visitors proposed here. 12% of the wineries have no visitors. Are they all going broke?
It is probably true that you can't continue to increase the number of small and inefficient wineries and expect them all to make a profit producing wine. So what is the answer? So far it has been to let them sell food and event tickets. But there is still no guarantee of profitability as every winery begins to sell food and tickets. And, as we are all sensing, there are long term impacts for agriculture (and for the character of the county) as the land and water resources available become co-opted for ever expanding tourism uses, the tourism workforce and the urbanization necessary to accommodate them.
Perhaps it is time to take a different approach: if a winery can't make a profit producing wine then perhaps some encouragement is needed to replace it with low-impact vines, which do seem to be a profitable enterprise, and that will serve the real long term interests of the wine industry and of the citizens that see this place as something special to be preserved.
I am Bill Hocker and I reside at 3460 Soda Canyon Road. Please forgive this second letter regarding the Krupp Bros. Winery.
Re: The Setback Variance
In my previous letter I lumped the Melka and Krupp proposals together because both represent the continued abandonment of road setbacks in the approvals of new winery projects. If a reason to grant a setback variance is that a neighbor already projects into it, then there will be an ever expanding cascade of variances rendering the ordinance completely meaningless.
On my "site inspection" of the Melka winery prior to your last meeting, I saw something more alarming than the proposal being made by the Melkas: it was the Titus winery under construction directly across the road. I wrote a letter to you about it when it came before you in May of last year. I complained about the 12% of the vineyard that was to be consumed by the winery development area. (The percentage of vineyard to be consumed on the Krupp site is about the same, another permanent loss of agricultural land - although Dr. Krupp has added a few acres at the top of Soda Canyon Road in compensation).
What I also saw was that the loss of the vines is only a part of the damage being done to the agricultural resource. I use the photographs below to illustrate the point. Traveling south on the Trail toward Titus the road passes through a tree tunnel and then emerges just above the site. Previously one looked out over an iconic expanse of the valley with hills on each side and a sea of vineyards and vegetation seeming to disappear into the horizon, seen here in a Google street view taken before the Titus construction.
And now with my photo overlaid, taken from the same position. The vision of nature's endless bounty (if I can be so sappy) has now been interrupted; its magnificence gone.
This was one of the many inspiring vistas within the Napa Valley that are now less than inspiring because of construction projects. The desecration of the magnificent ridge behind Stag's Leap by houses is the most disheartening to me, but I'm sure there are dozens more lamented by the residents of other parts of the valley. We are all looking forward in trepidation for the next iteration of Yountville Hill. I don't know what our viewshed ordinance covers, but it should have been in place to protect vistas like the one above.
Both the setback and viewshed restrictions are intended to mitigate the negative visual degradation that building projects create in the Napa landscape. That degradation is keenly felt by residents who experience the change. But as I mentioned in my previous letter, that landscape is, in fact, a more valued asset for the tourism industry than is wine in this Visit Napa Valley 2012 survey (page 31). As the natural visual resource is diminished, the incentive to brave high prices and heavy traffic to visit the valley also diminishes.
The Krupp winery encroachment into its easement doesn't quite rise to the level of damage that Titus has done to the landscape, but, despite attractive "napa-esque" architecture (perhaps overly subdued in the rendering), it will play its part. What was once perceived as a vineyard landscape will now be perceived as the garnish around a building, just as will be the case with Corona and has been the case with the unfortunate Laird Wine Studio, both across the road. Admittedly much of the Trail has already been visually compromised by buildings, especially in this neighborhood. But does that mean the you should just give up in the effort to protect an agricultural Eden? You have already approved a winery on this site which doesn't create the visual or physical encroachment into the vineyard. Let that previous approval stand. Please deny this variance.
Re: The Visitation Numbers
I am always a bit flummoxed by the complicated and inconsistent way in which visitation numbers are presented in these requests, so please forgive me if I am not interpreting them correctly. In your previous approval for the Krupp winery I get 21,900 t&t/yr (ave 60/day). In the new proposal I get 45,136 t&t/yr (max 868/wk ). Marketing events, the same in old and new proposals, would add 3370vis/y. Visitation has essentially doubled while the capacity has remained the same. Do I have this right? I'm not saying that either proposal is inappropriate, just that they quite different so why the change. Director Morrison has begun plotting a more rational relationship between capacity and visitation in the next item (10A) on your agenda. Under one of his proposals the Krupp winery would start out with 13,750 visitors/y before adjustments. Might it not be instructive to at least talk about the Krupp proposal in light of the analysis he has undertaken?
I am Bill Hocker and I reside at 3460 Soda Canyon Raod.
You have two use permit requests coming before you, the Melka Winery on Feb. 18th and the Krupp Bros Winery on Mar .4th. I would urge that both requests be denied on the basis of their proposed encroachment into the 600' setback required along the Silverado trail. There are other concerns in Melka regarding the use of a categorical exemption to enable small wineries to pass under the CEQA radar now so that it may morph into a real event center in further requests. Hopefully others will address these issues.
Regarding the setbacks: for too long the county has routinely granted variances to setback ordinances to expedite the approval of use permits. In the last 5 years almost half of all use permits for new winery buildings (16 out of 35) have been granted variances to allow encroachment into required road setbacks. Unrecorded are the number of major modifications involving enlargements to buildings already encroaching into the setbacks.
The planning department's basis for their support of these variances is in this paragraph of the county code:
"Special circumstances exist applicable to the property, including size, shape, topography, location or surroundings, because of which strict application of the zoning district regulations deprives such property of privileges enjoyed by other property in the vicinity and under identical zoning classification;"
Ordinances often seem to be written for existing situations with little thought for the impacts arising from future applications. For example, in 2010 the WDO was rewritten to provide additional income for existing wineries suffering the effects of a downturn. Until recently the significant cumulative impacts of a whole new generation of wineries proposed under those rules were not looked at. Regarding the special circumstances above, for those owners that had properties at the time of the writing there may be some justification in their application. But for properties purchased after the setbacks were in place, a buyer purchasing the property must assume that setbacks mean what they say. Unfortunately, for sellers to assert or for buyers to assume that they will be able to finagle the county over setbacks may say something about the county's lax attitude to date. It is an attitude that needs to change, beginning with these projects.
Surely you must recognize the absurd nature of the above code. With each variance you grant, more variances will be asked for by other neighbors in a never ending cascade of variances. The setback ordinance becomes meaningless. On this proposal the variance is being requested perhaps because of the variance granted to Titus last May. On the Krupp proposal, a permit granted for their previously-conforming winery is now to be replaced with a substantial encroachment, perhaps justified by the variance granted the Corona Winery across the road in the mean time. Next year, or next month, variances will be requested based on the variance granted to Melka and Krupp.
I assume that the setback ordinance exists for a purpose. It would seem to be an effort to retain in appearance, if not in actual substance, the rural character of Napa county, a tourism asset more admired than the wine in this 2012 Visit Napa Valley survey (page31). (Why the setback does not also include houses and parking lots, each as destructive to the roadside viewshed as the winery building, is a bit of a mystery) Granting these variances to wineries not only degrades the agrarian and rural beauty of the applicant's neighborhood, but each approval accelerates the process of visual decline leading eventually to winery strip malls lining major roads little different from the auto row on Soscol.
I know that for many requests now the decision to deny is fraught; the developer has played by the rules, however flawed. Melka is yet another commercial winery, like Yountville Hill or Relic on our Soda Canyon Road, shoehorned onto legal 10+ acre parcels that could be completely covered with vines and still not supply the grapes for a 10000 gallon winery. The Krupp proposal is yet another winery, like Titus or Girard or Mountain Peak on Soda Canyon Road that legally paves over acres of arable land, a loss of Napa's agricultural resource forever. It is difficult to refuse those travesties when they fit within the guidelines. Hopefully those guidelines will change. But in the question of setbacks your decision should be easy - there is a legal setback and you have the obligation to protect the intent of the ordinance, and a discretion to deny variances to it. Please, do so now.
Napa County has prepared a revision to a Procedural Manual to guide their application of the California CEQA code. The document is attached below indicating the latest changes in the Napa County Procedural Manual. Here are some highlights.
Chapter 5, Exempt Projects.
Appendix B - Additional Categorically Exempt Projects in Napa County.
Please note the interesting exemptions in Classes 1,3,4,5, all of import, but the Key is the Class 3 exemptions.
You can drive a huge wine truck or water truck through these exemptions. And some advisers appear to have directed their clients to the roadmap for these exemptions.
I refer you to the upcoming Melka Winery Proposal before the NC Planning Commission and the Categorical CEQA exemption Memo below, not to mention the 10 day (working business) notification memo with an extremely short public review.
These exemptions were not discussed in the latest NC BOS review of the NC CEQA Procedure Guidelines, so they remain. True, NC is trying to streamline their vetting process for Winery Applications, but what should they do when an applicant has appeared to design his application specifically to gain a Categorical Exemption and avoid the CEQA requirements as defined by the Napa County Administration Procedural Manual? What about the 600 foot setback required for such a project and the required variance? Again, have a look at Appendix B and the zoning requirement. What about the Cave construction and its size? What about the size of the winery building?
Is this activity really exempt from any environmental review, and actually a project that does not affect the environment where you live Cumulative Impacts will not be presented nor discussed.
So is this the case? Whatever your opinion, written or oral comments must be presented to the Planning Commission by their meeting on 2/18/2015 if they are to be considered in later proceedings.
Christina Benz of the Napa Sierra Club has sent notification of an upcoming event at Napa Sierra Club's March 12 general meeting: the Napa Green Certification program.
She writes that "we are hoping to bring vintners who are concerned about the environment (I currently work at winery) together with residents concerned about increased development so that we can learn what is currently or can be done to minimize environmental impact. As we move forward with our quest to redefine development standards, I think knowledge of the Napa Green certification programs is important to have."
The Larkmead Vineyards request involves an additional 39,000 gal/yr, approx 24000 additional visitor slots, longer hours, 10 more parking spaces, 15 more staff, an upgrade to the sanitary system to handle all that food. Larkmead Vineyards and Girard Winery, both on the outskirts of Calistoga, will be coming up before the planning commission on the same day, Jan 21st. Larkmead is on Larkmead Lane here.
Just between the two wineries an additional 80 cars will be making the trip upvalley each day, through American Canyon and St. Helena. If the two have their major events on the same day 350 parking spaces (3 football fields) need to be found in the south Calistoga area. There are, of course, dozens of other vineyards that can be developed under the current WDO into tourist wineries in south Calistoga. Perhaps a few of them could also be used as parking lots, a more profitable use than agriculture in any case.
There are currently 40 major projects in the planning department. That means that 2 or so will have to come before each planning commission meeting during the next year to deal with them. Of course, others will be added in the meantime.
On December 17th a biggie! unknown to the general public until now: the Girard Winery, a new 200,000 gal/year winery on vineyard land across from the Clos Pegase winery in Calistoga, less than a mile form the Calistoga Hills Resort. There will be 30,500 yearly visitor slots. The Planning Department seems to be up to their same old policies: the email notification for this project was sent out barely 20 days prior to the hearing, and right during the holiday chaos! The fix is in!
Also on December 17th The Raymond Winery expansion is again coming up before the Planning Commission. No word on whether a mitigation agreement has been made between neighbors and the winery.
The Joint BOS/Planning Commission meeting on May 20 was potentially a milestone in the latest in a long series of battles between the profiteers and purists for the soul of Napa County. The supervisors charged the planning department with analyzing the cumulative impacts that the last couple of years of winery approvals will have on the future of the county so that commissioners would no longer be "flying blind" while trying to make decisions on new proposals.
To those of us NIMBY's who have a winery project proposed in our backyards, or who might shortly if current trends hold, it has offered hope that our voices can be now heard. Collectively we know, because we've been forced to think about it, that our backyards are the future of Napa County, and that future, we think, will be crowded. Used to being dismissed, we find that being mentioned in the same breath with "stakeholders" by the commissioners and the supervisors is, in fact, a breath of fresh air.
Yet, one day later, we return to business-as-usual with the unanimous approval of the 11th new winery by the Planning Commission in the last year. A symbolic "nay" by one of the commissioners, agreed to openly by everyone in advance, would have been a welcome sign that community concerns would be weighed during the five months or so the county has given itself to review the impacts of approved projects. The 4-to-1 approval would still have advanced the project along to its appeal with the Board of Supervisors.
Five months, however, is too long for me. Our project will probably be coming up in the next month. As will two or three new wineries or winery expansions each month for the next five months, a total of perhaps 130,000 new tourism visitation slots (and perhaps four new communities of irate NIMBY's) if the rate remains as it has.
But the rate may not remain the same. The BOS meeting has put developers on alert that things may be different by the end of the year and they'd better get their projects in right now. The planning department may have some technique to prevent spikes -- I don't know. But there is a possibility that the planning staff is going to be burdened with more work than ever just at the moment they (have) been requested to spend time analyzing the impacts of their past work.
I think that the county planners are very dedicated and hardworking. They have done their best over the last couple of years to process the projects that the planning commission was anxious to approve. Yet as was noted at the joint meeting, things have changed a lot in two years. The economy is up -- and with it the sale of high-end wines. Advertising to attract tourists has been successful. The incentive to build ever more tourist attractions as a strategy to increase sales is less pressing.
So I would re-propose a solution that was rejected at the joint meeting -- one that works to my ends, one that relieves the burden on staff so that they can have the time to really find out what these last two years of approvals mean, one that relieves commissioners from making decisions in a vacuum, and one that, IMHO, gives the county time to reconnect with the preservation of its soul. We need not use the "m" word. Let's just call it a breather.
This letter is in response to Peter Jensen's recent article "Pelosi family wins delay of winery project" on May 7th.
The consideration of two new winery projects by the Planning Commission brings up once again the impact that the loosening of the tourism-marketing restrictions in the 2010 revision to the Winery Definition Ordinance is bringing to the County. As a resident of upper Soda Canyon Road faced with the possible location of a winery-tourism project in my neighborhood I have become quite sensitized to the concerns of residents, and perhaps some vintners, all over the county that are confronting the same intrusions into the rural life they thought they had found in the Napa Valley.
These projects, the Castelucci Family Winery and Titus Vineyards and Winery, are just this month's examples of how the development pressures released by the change to the WDO (and the enactment of the State's Evans Bill in 2008 allowing on-site consumption of wine purchased at wineries) are playing out.
The Agricultural Preserve was created in 1968 in the knowledge that small scale agriculture cannot compete profitably with almost any other land use endeavor. The Ag Preserve was set up to drastically limit what uses Napa County land could be used for beyond agriculture. But developers have always been pressing against the dykes of the Preserve trying to find a way to turn Napa land to more profitable use. American Canyon was created in 1992 to relieve pressure against the rest of the County.
The Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 was a similar response to the development pressue. Wineries and wine tourism, industrial and commercial activities in any other part of the world, were redefined as part of the agricultural process. The tourism was heavily restricted, but it was a crack in the dyke. In 2010 the tourism restrictions were eased, to allow "marketing plans" that included meetings and events of almost any kind (short of weddings!) and to allow "wine pairings" or the serving of food with wine, allowing the wineries to become in essence restaurants. Combined with the Evans Bill, the profitability scale tipped and development proposals have been coming in at the rate of several per month for the last few years.
In the last year alone proposals amounting to over 1,000,000 gal/yr in winery production capacity, 300,000 sf of increased winery area, and 500,000 new visitor allowances have come before the Planning Commission. One new tourism-winery is being added to the County each month and existing wineries are beefing up marketing plans and infrastructure to tap into this new wave of tourism.
Each new project has impacts not beneficial to the maintenance of the Ag Preserve. The Titus Vineyard most clearly shows the threat: 3 vineyard acres of the 31acre property have been removed from true agriculture and are now devoted to industrial and tourism uses. That nibbling away of agricultural land in these developments was best described in one of the 1990 WDO "findings of fact":
"(f) The cumulative effect of such projects is far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agrictural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural use."
The other threat to the Preserve lies in the tourism numbers. The combined allowed visitors (34000/year by my calculation) in these projects, along with the other half million new visitors per year permitted in the last year will all need hotels and restaurants and parking lots and bathrooms all of which require land and water that currently belongs to the Preserve. Tourism and agriculture are not mutually compatible, each requiring for different purposes the land and water resources that seem to be in ever shorter supply. If the concessions to tourism made in the 2010 WDO are not removed, the tourism they are spawning will continue to nibble at those resources, until the vineyards, like the fishing villages of cape cod, become only a prop to justify tourism.
The WDO argued that wineries are integral to agriculture, and that accessory uses (like wine marketing and tourism) were to be subordinated to agricultural use. I may be wrong, but I would guess that if the tourism components of new projects were eliminated, the wineries would not be considered; that the positions of agriculture and tourism have been reversed from that intended in the WDO, with tourism and marketing profitability driving the decision to build a winery, not the need to process grapes. (Indeed vintners are already concerned that winery capacity has overtaken their ability to supply the necessary Napa grapes.)
It is past time for the Board of Supervisors to decide if Napa County is to base its economy on agriculture, or on the more profitable economy of tourism. It is just that imbalance in profitability that the Ag Preserve was created to guard against in the first place. Tourism, regulated at its current level, will undoubtedly consume and deface the rural environment that is the legacy of the Ag Preserve, the loss of an environment treasured by residents, vintners and tourists alike. It is time to re-look at the unfortunate decisions made in 2010.
3460 Soda Canyon Road
Read this Castelucci Winery story for its clues. This subject of the tipping point is very much on their minds. Notice Mike Basayne sensing that the PC is to look to the rules template, but the BOS is to make policy. I have noticed Heather Phillips and Mark Pope talk like this before, worried about cumulative effects and no overall plan, just incremental approvals. I think Fiddaman has never met a winery he didn't like. Terry Scott is a reasonable, level fellow it has been my observation.
Excerpt:…In another action, the commissioners did vote to approve a 24,000-gallon winery to be built off Silverado Trail near the intersection of Deer Park Road that will be called Titus Vineyards and Winery.
They expressed concerns that the winery's visitation and marketing plans were too large given the winery's small production size. The developers sought a maximum of 60 visitors per day plus special events, but ultimately agreed to reduce that to 40 visitors daily and a maximum of 200 each week, plus special events.
Some commissioners said increased winery visitation requests, part of the increased reliance on direct-to-consumer sales in the Napa Valley wine industry, continues to raise problems of related impacts such as worsening traffic. They also questioned if they were straying from the intent of the Winery Definition Ordinance, a landmark 1990 county ordinance that mandates wineries maintain a connection to agriculture.
"Market conditions have changed faster than long-standing land-use policies at the county have been able to adapt," Commissioner Matt Pope said. "It's a new world, and I don't think it's the one the WDO anticipated 24 years ago."
But Commissioner Mike Basayne said resolving these issues should be done at a policy level, which would require consulting with the Napa County Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will be hosting a joint meeting May 22.
"I am not prepared to make this application the poster child for the tipping point for direct-to-consumer," Basayne said. "The numbers continue to be more and more aggressive."