Update 2/5/20The Winery project was approved by the Planning Commission with some paring of the program.
1/8/2015In the free-comment period at the beginning of the Planning Commission meeting on Jan 7th. 2015 (video), several neighbors got up to voice their concerns about the Anthem Winery major modification being proposed at 3123 Dry Creek Road. The project is still under review at the planning commission. It comes on the heels of the Woolls Ranch approval, the first of the tourist event centers allowed in the Mt. Veeder AVA (beyond the humongous pre-WDO Hess Collection built in the late 70's). More will surely follow.
The initial application is for an increase of 20,000 gals/yr, 3400 sf of additional structure and 22,000 sf of caves, 21,000 visitors/yr, tasting hours 8am to 8pm, evening events til 10pm weekdays, midnight (a new record) on the weekends. 7 full time and 5 part time employees. All documents are on the County's Anthem Winery page.
Just as we felt in March of 2014 on Soda Canyon Road, the immediate neighbor described the project as a nightmare. The outraged reactions of the other neighbors were also familiar. For those of us who have cherished our lives of rural tranquility in the county, the idea of a tourist event center next door is a nightmare come true. It is a personal violation of our reason to live here, of the paradise we thought we had found. Call me a "little sister" (Volker Eisele's term) but for me the nausea and the sleeplessness have not disappeared even after 9 months. That sense of violation continues to drive this website.
The neighbor was made aware of the project by the developer in the course of other property line discussions. The project did not apparently fall under the new notification procedures put into place, procedures that came into being in part because of community activism. The procedures, which require notification at the time of application rather than at the end of county review, give the neighbors whose lives will be degraded by these projects an opportunity to weigh in during the review process, with at least the possibility of mitigations being worked out before the projects reach the Planning Commission.
There are perhaps 40 project applications in the planning department. All will have major impacts on their neighborhoods and cumulatively an impact on the future of the county. The importance of a public vetting of the projects well before the 20 day "public review" period, after which they go to the planning commission for judgement, is an important step in our battle to insure that all constituencies are represented in the land use battles necessary to protect the future and the soul of Napa County.
The approval of the winery's 1500' long, 17' wide access road ending in a one lane bridge will be litigated in court. The county will be required to justify ignoring of all of its own county road and street standards as well as California State fire safe regulations to insure that one more tourist attraction can be inflicted on the rural residents of the counry.
Another loss for rural residents in their battles against the pernicious impacts of the wealthy pursuing their dreams of being goodlife impresarios.
It is perhaps a coincidence that the article on Sup. Dillon's decision not to run for re-election, happened one day after the Anthem hearing in which she was the one supervisor to vote against its approval. "I have a suspicion that there will be [at least] three votes to approve this," she said near the beginning of her comments. There was a wearyiness as she enumerated her concerns about the project, the verifiable and obvious lack of water, the fire danger posed by such a substandard access route in an age of fire, and the use of exceptions to (i.e violations of) county ordinances to make the project feasable.
The two events are not directly related, of course, but one could easily imagine a link. She is the one member of the board that rose out of the battles to prevent agrictural land and open space from being developed. That battle is being lost with each new tourist attraction, warehouse, hotel, housing and deforestation project that the growth-centric board majority now supports. Those projects will induce more development and the cascade of urbanization -- unrestrained by the preservationist ideals that created and defended the Ag Preserve -- will eventually dominate the life and environment of the county. The slow demise of Napa's vineyards and woodlands will not be a pretty sight. To remain on the board with that inevitability, would be a wearying prospect, indeed. On the other hand, it is a better position from which to protect the ag legacy than from the sidelines.
The owner of Anthem is a member of Coalition Napa Valley, the small group of winery owners and developers who wish to abandon the limitations on winery visitation in county ordinances and general plan that hobble their ambitions. The group's (so far only) champion on the Board seems to be its current chair, Sup. Pedroza. It is a group so fervent in their tourism ambitions that even the wine industry 'stakeholders' who created the tourism carveouts in Napa's unique definition of agriculture are not yet on board. The group is led by Dario Sattui, developer and major-domo of Castello di Amorosa, Napa's biggest tourist attraction. It is possible that someone from the group, perhaps the aggressive Mr. Sattui himself, will run for Sup. Dillon's seat in 2022. That is also a wearysome prospect.
One other dissuasion from seeking re-election: having to listen to 3 minutes of truly ugly vitriol from James Hinton at each meeting.
One appellant has forwrded this list of specific issues on the Anthem project:
Some Areas of Concern
Water security. Almost every property surrounding Anthem has wells that have gone dry and now need to truck water or have low performing wells. Both Dry Creek Road and Redwood Road are designated by the County as “areas of interest”, meaning they have scarce groundwater. If you are one of these neighbors, please report on your water situation. I request the County delay the erosion control plan for new vines for three years until it is clear there is enough water to run the winery as well as to irrigate the vines they already have.
Driveway: The proposed driveway and bridge do not conform to Cal Fire Board of Forestry fire safety standards. The Board of Forestry requires that a driveway be a minimum of 20 feet wide so an exiting vehicle can pass a fire truck in the case of fire. The County has approved 1700 lineal feet of the driveway, which is 14 to 18 feet wide, a proposed one-way bridge with no required turnouts on either side, and there are further exceptions for the substandard 18 to 20% grades. The fire consulting engineering firm REAX , retained by appellants Jeff Atlas and Paul Rowe, has recommended that no more than 50 people be at any one event. The winery has been permitted for one 100 person event. They are also planning to build another 650 feet of driveway on a steep hillside in which they will need to cut about 60 trees and grade soils prone to landslide and erosion. Appellants are telling the County and Anthem: the driveway does not fit.
Oak savanna: Anthem decided to ignore and redefine the meaning of the legally recorded tree easement protecting ancient valley oaks by planting the savanna. They are also threatening the trees' survival by planting too close to the dripline and drilling wells within the savanna’s midst.
Caves: One of the largest caves in the County for a 30,000-gallon winery, the winery already permitted for far more wine than they can grow grapes on site. The plans for disposing of the tailings appear to be erroneous.
Please see the attached last page of the staff report for the September 1, 2020 meeting. The last paragraph says it all. "given the local context of the winery site, site constraints, water supply, the extent the site would need to be manipulated to provide adequate access and accommodate an expanded winery and visitation levels, and the requests and exceptions necessary to accommodate the expanded winery, this site may not be appropriate for a winery of the requested size and visitation level. "
Anthem is one of numurous winery projects that have been vehemently opposed over the last 7 years by rural communities who's quality-of-life is threatened by a winery event center in their neighborhood: Yountvile Hill, our own Mountain Peak, Woolls Ranch, Girard, Raymond, Hard Six, Aloft, Caldwell, Scarlett and others. In addition, in that period, are the mega projects, Walt Ranch and Syar Quarry that have galvanized neighbors intent on protecting their rural communities. Each project has been legally argued on the basis of very specific impacts, necessitating the involvment of lawyers and consultants to show that the project will comply with or violate some aspect of county code. Never are they argued on the basis of the loss of rural tranquility that has attracted many to live in the county.
County ordinances are created with developer underwriting to codify the conditions that will allow development to happen, never to codify the value of undeveloped land. It is the development threat to Napa's agricultural, small town quality-of-life that is at the center of resident concern about every project in this 7 years -- as it was to the establishment of Napa as an agricultural preserve 50 years ago. Since the election of Bill Dodd as Supervisor 20 years ago, that commitment to preservation over development has been losing ground, figuratively and literaly, "Once it's gone, it's gone", Sup. Pedroza reminded us about the agricultural-watershed-open-space land protected by a previous generation of county leaders. With each new development project he and other Supervisor approve, it continues to go.
I would ask you to reconsider the approval of the Anthem Winery project by the Planning Commission and uphold the appeal of neighbors who will be impacted by imposition of this public facility in the midst of their rural community.
There are technical grounds to uphold the appeal; at the end of the Staff letter to you, while recommending support of the Planning Commission decision, Staff also leavened their advice with this contradictory qualification:
"[G]ven the local context of the winery site, site constraints, water supply, the extent the site would need to be manipulated to provide adequate access and accommodate an expanded winery and visitation levels, and the requests and exceptions necessary to accommodate the expanded winery, this site may not be appropriate for a winery of the requested size and visitation level."
For those of us on Soda Canyon Road, the question of access constraints became very real during the 2017 Atlas fire. Just before the fire, the Board approved findings for a similar winery project proposed near the end of road. The findings concluded that emergency ingress and egress on the road would not be a problem in the event of an emergency. A downed tree at the start of the fire quickly gave lie to that finding. Emergency vehicles could not move up the road. Residents could not exit as the fire surrounded the road. It was a near catastrophe.
In the Anthem project, one look at the one-lane bridge and the 17' wide driveway leading to it on the site plan, and at the 20% grade to be surmounted on the route, should be enough to question the wisdom of accommodating dozens of vehicles for events and visitation and for the passage of heavy trucks needed for production and response vehicles needed for emergencies. The narrowness of the driveway, and its steep gradient, is testimony that this access to the site was never intended for commercial and industrial traffic. It is a driveway for a private residential estate.
The findings for the project indicate that the exceptions in road width, road gradient, bridge width, turnout accommodation, are all acceptable because of a fairly elaborate system of electronic and static signs use to direct one-way traffic and to limit road usage in the event of an emergency. Also necessary is the training of employees in how to operate and implement the system.
Can an emergency evacuation really be so predictably choreographed? People fleeing in fear of their lives are unlikely to pay attention to signs. Employees in the midst of a chaotic event may have limited experience, information, time and concentration to implement the optimal evacuation plan. And external events -- a power outage, a stalled vehicle, a downed tree as happened on Soda Canyon Road, may instantly foil any emergency plan.
The findings for the Anthem road exceptions are not a simple as finding the county's RSS's to be an acceptable level of safety, even though those standards proved inadequate in the Atlas fire. In this case, the Board must find that the various exceptions and mitigations -- accommodating a sub-standard road width, accepting a sub-standard road gradient, use of a one-lane bridge, use of an elaborate electronic signage system, the use of staff to make evacuation decisions -- will insure the safety of visitors and staff in an emergency. It is, in fact, taking a leap of faith that all will go as planned in a severe event, and the county will bear some responsibility if things do not go as planned.
As Staff noted in its qualification, it is not just the question of safe ingress and egress that makes this project problematic. There are numerous reasons to question its approval. (Unstated, of course, is the issue at the heart of all projects that eventually end up before you: the impact that tourism -- as opposed to real agriculture -- poses to the quality of life treasured by rural residents.)
But given the increasing frequency of fires, now an inherent part of living and doing business in the county, the issue of fire safety for the general public in the approval of commercial building sites should be of paramount concern. Hopefully, you will begin to revisit your interest in promoting tourism attractions in the fire prone areas of the county. You should start with this project.
Update 2/5/20The Anthem Winery was approved by the Planning Commission after reductions in the production made by the applicant, reductions in the visitation numbers made by staff at commissioners' request and a proposed lot line adjustment to eliminate the variance request. There were still concerns over the fate of the entry road.
New neg dec indicates a reduction in visitation from 15,532 to 13,208 yearly visitors. Event closing time change from midnight(!) to 10pm. No changes apparently to the problematic access driveway or viewshed request.
Update 1/8/19The continued Planning Commission hearing for the Anthem Winery was to take place Jan 16, 2019 but has been continued to a date uncertain and will be renoticed 1/16/19 agenda and documents here.
Update 10/3/18After 3 hours of presentation and public comment the Commissioners sought additional work by Staff to review and address the many concerns raised. The hearing was continued to Dec 5, 2018 [now Jan 16, 2019]. (The Davis Winery marketing, caves and production expansion was approved)
Technically a use permit "modification", it will be, in fact, a newly constructed complex including a new 10,000 sf winery building, 29,000 sf of new caves, a new 1500 sf tasting room, a new 1700 office building, outdoor event spaces, 22 car parking lot, and newly constructed entry drive from Dry Creek Rd. Tours and tastings and events will bring 15500 visitors/yr and 7-12 employees/day.
The site is 3.4 miles from Hwy 29. At 56 proposed trips per day, that amounts to 69495 VMT/yr due of its remote location - almost 3 times around the earth.
The project has been vigorously challenged by neighbors whose enjoyment of their remote rural properties will be destroyed by an event center in their midst. The adoption of tourism as an integral part of the wine Industry has much to do with the current antagonism of residents toward the industry as a whole. In this case it is also another example of neighbors who are themselves farmers and vintners - as happened with Yountville Hill, Girard, Raymond, Melka, B-Cellars and others - coming forward, not in opposition to a neighbor's right to farm and process their crop, but their right to create a tourism entertainment venue. Tourism may be defined as agriculture in the pro-development dogma of wine industry stakeholder groups and in the County ordinances that they have crafted, but in the real world, tourism is not agriculture - especially when it shows up next door. If only more farmers would act on the real possibility that an event center will eventually be their neighbor, the county might return to a more realistic definition of agriculture.
The Anthem project involves a road exception for the entry drive constraints, setback variances from the private drive, a viewshed ordinance regulation because of its visibility on the hill, and the removal of 130 trees. As was the case with the nearby Woolls Ranch winery, the project involves the contested use (commercial vs residential) of an easement over a neighbor's property. It raises once again the issue of water availability in the western watershed, having had to truck in water for a couple of years, also the case with the Woolls Ranch vineyard. It also raises the issue of remotely located custom crush facilities, with only a small percentage of its 50,000 gallons coming from grapes on the property. And then there is the dispute with another neighbor over the clearing of a woodland preservation easement between their properties. Finally, some events will be allowed until the trend-setting hour of midnight. The project pushes the boundaries of every norm.
Given the continued expansion of wineries into the watershed areas of the county, numerous projects have come before the Planning Commission asking for variances and exceptions to county ordinances to make the projects feasible in the hilly terrain. The ordinances were enacted specifically to recognize that some locations are not appropriate for building projects in order to maintain the rural and natural beauty that has been one of the county's principal assets. Unfortunately, the County, under pressure from a never-ending tide of profit- and ego-driven entrepreneurs, continues to approve projects requiring such exceptions to exist. And a rural landscape, protected by a previous generation of civic leaders and responsible stakeholders, is slowly being diminished as a consequence.
The Oct 3rd Planning Commission will also hear the Davis Estates Winery request for a large expansion in capacity, facility size and visitation numbers located on the Silverado Trail. Between the 2 wineries, 37,000 new visitation slots per year will be created, adding to population increase and the urbanization needed to accommodate it.
There are approximately 140 new wineries or expansions that have been approved since 2010 that will add some 1.8 million visitor slots. Another 30 are in the planning pipeline seeking to add 260,000 more visitor slots. Of those already approved, few have been built and their visitors and employees and the traffic they generate and the need for infrastructure, services and housing that they will create have not yet added to the impacts of urbanization that we already feel.
These wineries also represent an increase in permitted production capacity of 6+ million gallons/year. According to crop reports, the number of producing acres of vines has only grown by about 1000 acres in the last decade, barely enough for 1 million gallons of new production capacity. Many new wineries, like Anthem, will be used principally to process off site grapes that are undoubtedly being processed elsewhere now. Their wine will add little to Napa's overall wine output. Their real product is wine tasting experiences and the events they will host. These wineries would probably not be built were it not for their tourism function, a fact that Anthem's owner quantified in her letter to APAC.
In 2014, when we first found out about the event center proposed for the property next to us, it was already obvious that winery construction to serve a tourism economy was distorting the concept of agriculture as being the highest and best use of the land. It is now past time to decide that there are enough wineries already, enough boxes littering the landscape, and begin to use the county's discretion to deny those whose reason to exist is little more than the dream of owning a winery of one's own and the wealth to realize it; in particular those wineries that must stretch every ordinance and antagonize every neighbor to accommodate that realization.
"1. Recommendation: Avoid the use of variances as a principal tool for achieving compliance with land use regulations. Variances may be used only when there is specific evidence supporting all necessary findings.
Action taken: The proposal received a unanimous vote. Vote 16 - 0. The Committee made this recommendation on July 27."
Although the actual changes in County policy and practice as a result of the APAC process are still a bit nebulous, there was, at least, an overwhelming consensus from both sides of the development debate on recommendation 1, which was not to my knowledge, challenged as the Report made its way through PC and BOS review.
Proposals such as Anthem are the reason this recommendation was made. The project requests a trifecta of ordinance stretching - variances, road exceptions and viewshed mitigations - in order to be built on this site. It is hard to see how these can be seen as anything other than principal tools to achieve compliance here, and I would encourage the Planning Commission to reject the project on this basis.
The consideration of access to accommodate winery tourism was also on the minds of Supervisors when they approved changes to the WDO in 2010, advising Commissioners to endeavor to ensure "a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs." In the Anthem case, 15500 visitors/yr, and 12 hospitality employees/day will use a constrained access that doesn't meet County road and street standards in an area that the CDF assesses, and that experience now shows, is a high fire risk. I would hope that the County would make a prudent assessment of its own liability in approving tourism activities on non-compliant access roads in documented high fire risk areas, and I would encourage the Planning Commission to reject the project on this basis as well.
There are issues of water depletion in an area of known shortages, and in an age of global warming which I would also hope that you also consider . And the deterioration of the quality of life, as neighbors have expressed, when the rural character that attracts people to the county becomes commercialized to the benefit of corporations and the wealthy.
But, as I have argued - since a tourism facility was proposed next to us at the end of Soda Canyon Road - there is a bigger question concerning the place of tourism as the motivating element of winery development in the County that should be a part of the discussion on every winery project being proposed in the county.
The county already has an existing processing capacity several times beyond that needed to process all of the county's grapes. Yet new or modified use permits have added some 6 million gallons of capacity in the last 10 years. In the same time about 1000 acres of new vineyards have been added enough for 1 million gallons of wine. New wineries, in order to fill their barrels, will need to poach grapes from existing wineries, at inflated prices, while the amount of wine produced in the county will hardly budge.
At the same time 3 million new visitor slots have been approved, with the pleading by each applicant that without those visitors their wineries, that add nothing but cost to Napa wine output, will not be profitable. The profit is in the visitation not the wine; new wineries will not expand the wine industry, and may serve to make it less competitive, but they will expand the venues for a tourism industry.
What is the County's mission is in granting ever more building permits and encouraging ever more visitors and employees and traffic to come into the county? Is it to protect the agricultural lands and rural character that the General Plan envisions, and that residents and many in the wine industry support; or is to promote a more profitable tourism industry that urbanizes and stretches the resources and infrastructure of the county under the guise of raising tax revenues to pay for the impacts of that urbanization, and the fiction that such urban growth will not ultimately bury the vines.
The Dry Creek Road Alliance, another group formed some time ago to counter the threat of a commercialization of their rural community have now added a website, just in time for the Planning Commission hearing on Oct. 3, 2018 for the proposed Anthem Winery (see screed below).
I have just begun this separate Anthem Winery page. Their request for the expansion of their small winery to become 25,000sf event center will be a long process.
At one of the APAC meetings, Julie Arbuckle, owner of Anthem Winery, read a statement of her concerns about the amounts of visitation that Planning Director Morrison was proposing for future wineries in an effort to try to stem the torrent of tourism currently being requested by developers of winery projects. In it she exemplified everything that is currently wrong with the tourism processing approach to winemaking. It is an approach that lifts capitalism straight out of the 19th century, that concerns itself only with rate of return on investment in a conspicuous display of wealth, and has little regard for the impact on the community in which her capitalist adventure takes place or of the long term impacts of a county increasingly urbanized to accommodate an ever expanding number of tourists. Her statement is here. My response to her letter is here.
At the Planning Commission meeting on Jan 7th, a community of residents used the open comments period to voice their concerns about the Anthem Winery expansion on Dry Creek Road. One neighbor also expressed the threat to the rural character of their neighborhood here: Planners please preserve watersheds.
It is now more obvious than ever that the projects that each of us are encountering in our backyards do not just debase our neighborhoods, but are harbingers of a suburbanized, commercialized environment for the entire county. There are no more individual backyards, there is only the county's backyard, and it is being inundated with development.