Updated: County planners reject Flynnville winery project

Applicant will now scale back proposal
2013-10-02T14:54:00Z 2013-10-03T10:05:14Z Updated: County planners reject Flynnville winery projectPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
October 02, 2013 2:54 pm  • 

Calling it an “industrialization of the Ag Preserve,” Napa County planning commissioners on Wednesday bluntly rejected a proposed project to build an 82,000-square-foot winery near Calistoga with 300,000 gallons of production annually.

The developers behind the project wanted to split the site into 14 individual wine production areas, allowing smaller winemakers who do custom crush or want to operate within a larger winery an opportunity to get their brands launched in the Napa Valley.

The project, called Flynnville, would be located on the east side of Highway 29 in between Maple Lane and Drew Lane, just south of the city of Calistoga. The developer, PD Properties, is trying to convert an 11-acre property from storage buildings and a Pacific Gas & Electric equipment yard to an agricultural use more suitable for the surrounding Ag Preserve.

Planning staff and the applicants pushed the project as a way to confine small winery operations into one location, without having to remove vineyard land or trees to accommodate growth in the local wine industry.

But with requests for maximum visitation of 500 visitors per day to the site, a 500-person event each year, more than 100 parking spaces, and buildings up to three stories tall, the proposal drew harsh criticism from neighbors during a hearing before the county Planning Commission on Wednesday.

The planning commissioners were asked to render opinions on the size of the project, and continue the request for approval to a later date. After a three-hour hearing, they delivered a verdict — much, much too large.

“It frankly blows my mind that that amount was asked for,” Commissioner Bob Fiddaman said. “The members of this commission did not just fall off the turnip truck. My initial reaction to what is a novel and innovative business concept is — huge threat to the (Winery Definition Ordinance) and the Ag Preserve.”

Commission Chairman Terry Scott agreed, and said approving this kind of development would set a dangerous precedent for the Napa Valley.

“I’m concerned that this type of development could unleash a tsunami of industrialization or commercialization of the Ag Preserve,” Scott said.

The Planning Commission voted 4-0 to continue the project to a future date, allowing the developers ample time to reduce the size, do outreach with neighbors, and account for the impacts the project will have.

Commissioner Heather Phillips recused herself from the vote because she said she purchases more than $10,000 of wine each year from a partner in PD Properties, Dan Pina.

Jeffrey Redding, a land-use consultant working on the project, told the planning commissioners that having the property split up into 14 areas gives the small winemakers a chance to have their own tasting rooms, rather than sharing with others.

The project’s concept is similar to what Laird and the Napa Wine Company have done for custom-crush facilities. Redding said his project would meet a need among small winemakers in the county.

“We also think this is a product that is needed in the valley,” Redding said. “We know there is a niche here.”

Deputy Planning Director John McDowell also endorsed the concept, although not the proposed size. The proposal calls for taking eight parcels and combining them into one. As separate parcels, the zoning would permit single-family homes on each, but McDowell said he didn’t want to see that happen in that area.

He said it makes sense from a planning perspective to get rid of the storage buildings and equipment yards — uses that would never be allowed under current zoning and land-use regulations, but pre-date the Ag Preserve’s adoption in 1968.

The project also benefits smaller wineries as they try to grow their businesses, McDowell said.

“It’s a huge step for them to go from custom facility, a place like Laird, to having a brick-and-mortar presence,” McDowell said. “The concept had merit to me. It seemed like a good idea.”

Neighbor Peter Heitz, a winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars, said the production Flynnville was asking for would require 350 acres of new vineyard plantings, and contended the 82,000 square feet of space was wholly insufficient to house 300,000 gallons of production every year.

Heitz alleged that the developers intentionally asked for a project much larger than what they truly wanted, and would later cut it down to satisfy the Planning Commission.

“They bought the junkyard knowing they would come before you and ask for this,” Heitz said. “The proposal to do this is totally outside the bounds of the Agricultural Preserve. They’re hoping to get half of what they’re asking for. I think they should get a tenth of what they’re asking for.”

Neighbor Andrea Powell said a project that large was out of character for her rural neighborhood.

“As neighbors we feel like Jonah being swallowed by a whale,” Powell said. “We live in a quiet secluded area. We consider the 14 wineries like little condos which are going to be rented out. All I can say is, please save us from this whale.”

Joan Zoloth, another neighbor, summed up her view of what the project would become. “This is an event center with a manufacturing plant,” she said.

Redding said he heard the neighbors’ concerns, and would work with them, planning staff and the developers to scale back the size.

“Sometimes it takes a brick to the head to really get it, and today’s brick has been pretty large,” Redding said.

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(11) Comments

  1. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - October 02, 2013 5:29 pm
    When I read this article and combine it with another article a few days back about a similar proposal north of St. Helena, I think the danger to Napa County won't ever be urban sprawl, but something more akin to "winery sprawl." I agree with the perception that these small plot wineries seem to be of an industrial operation with a tasting room on the side.
  2. Michael Haley
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    Michael Haley - October 02, 2013 6:47 pm
    I thought that one parcel means one winery, and a ten acre parcel is the minimum size to make a small, ie 20,000 gallon winery. Another acre and a half doesn't change that much. 14 wineries means at least 140 acres and they better all be small wineries at that.

    Good call by the Planning Commission, this small size parcel should not be able to hold bigger than one small winery commensurate with other small wineries on similar parcels throughout the valley.

    It is not similar to Napa Wine Company because they don't have events with 500 people and they are on a commercially zoned corner. They are a glorified tasting room.

    I think all of us have to realize that as the valley grows developers are going to be continually trying to push the limits, as they always do. Regulations are something to be worked to be gotten around so that the most value can be extracted from the smallest parcel, using the maximum amount of resources to enable bigger profits.

  3. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - October 02, 2013 11:04 pm
    Is this the new developer trend - ask for something so big and unrealistic that planners will be fooled into approving larger projects than they would have otherwise?

  4. Wineandfood
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    Wineandfood - October 03, 2013 6:35 am
    Napa Wine Company is not a glorified tasting room - real start up wineries begin there. It's a very intense custom crush facility that also allows certain customers to pour their wine there according to the very strict state and federal regs.
  5. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - October 03, 2013 7:45 am
    They are going to get what they wanted, bet on it. They asked for a big project in hopes to get what they secretly wanted.
  6. calinapavalleycali
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    calinapavalleycali - October 03, 2013 9:22 am
    Thank you...the big "corps" are so unconcerned with Napa Valley's conservation efforts to preserve our future.
  7. calinapavalleycali
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    calinapavalleycali - October 03, 2013 9:23 am
    Well said! Thanks.
  8. Michael Haley
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    Michael Haley - October 03, 2013 10:14 am
    Well, it's small is my point, not 82,000 square feet with 300,000 gallons of production on site.
  9. bowlerhat
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    bowlerhat - October 03, 2013 4:12 pm
    Plenty of room in Lake County. Leave us alone!!!
  10. BRGMGB
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    BRGMGB - October 04, 2013 8:02 pm
    Too bad the City of Calistoga can't say no to developers like the county did in this case. There is only so much water in this area, and a project like this will surely deplete ground water levels. And the state highway is not adequate for another project like this. Flynnville in its present use, or similar one, does not generate a lot of traffic nor use extreme amounts of water. Best this property be used as it has been used, not turned into another tourist attraction.
  11. Dannyboy
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    Dannyboy - October 09, 2013 6:40 pm
    Good on the county for nixing this monstrosity.

    When I drive down Hwy 29 or Silverado Trail, I cannot believe the amount of wineries I am seeing built. Enough is enough. Instead of all these fancy wineries, let's have a few quality micro-breweries like Sierra Nevada in Chico so a normal person can have a beer.
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