Bell Wine Cellars ups capacity 50%, visitation 340%
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Bill Hocker | May 7, 2015

NVR: Bell Wine Cellars wins visitation increase request

Geoff Ellsworth's statement at the hearing:
    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).

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