Grayson Building

A state appellate court has upheld a ruling in favor of the city of St. Helena in a dispute with neighbors over Davies Vineyards, which opened a tasting room and visitors center on Grayson Avenue, opposite St. Helena High School, last April.

David Stoneberg, Star file photo

ST. HELENA — A state appellate court has upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the city in a lawsuit involving the Davies Vineyards tasting room on Grayson Avenue.

A ruling issued by the First District Court of Appeals on Nov. 8 rejects arguments by representatives of Citizens’ Voice St. Helena who claimed the City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the city’s own zoning ordinance and General Plan by approving the tasting room and expanded winery in 2014 without ordering a full environmental impact report.

The ruling confirms a previous judgment by Napa County Superior Court Judge Rodney Stone, who ruled that opponents didn’t adequately express their objections during public hearings on the project. His ruling was appealed by the plaintiffs, Susan Kenward and Geoff Ellsworth on behalf of Citizens’ Voice. Ellsworth was elected to the City Council in 2016.

Kenward said Citizen’s Voice will not appeal the decision.

“Both Geoff and I would like to thank the hundreds of citizens who contributed to this effort with their time, energy and money,” Kenward said. “We found the ruling nothing less than bewildering and leaves us both saddened and disappointed at those on the City Council, Planning Commission and our town attorney, who consistently advocated and defended a project that made our school zone less safe, putting one citizen’s commercial interest above the safety of our town’s children. We continue to work statewide for safe alcohol-free school zones.”

The council allowed the winery in the old Epps Chevrolet building to expand production from 20,000 to 75,000 gallons per year. It also permitted the construction of a tasting room and hospitality center on Grayson Avenue behind A&W and across from St. Helena High School.

Kenward and Ellsworth were among various people who objected to the project’s effects on traffic, parking, noise and water, and questioned the safety of building a tasting room next to a school.

However, the ruling points to mitigation measures, such as a new crosswalk on Grayson Avenue, that the city required in order to reduce the project’s impacts to “less than significant” levels under CEQA.

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“Citizen’s Voice makes no genuine attempt to demonstrate how the mitigation measures are inadequate in addressing concerns generated by the proposed project,” the ruling states.

The court also rejected claims that the project violated the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinance. The General Plan prohibition of “strictly tourist-serving retail uses” in the Service Commercial zoning district doesn’t expressly outlaw projects like this one, the court ruled.

“Some of the other features of the planned expansion might appear to be oriented to tourists, but not exclusively,” the ruling states. “There is nothing in the administrative record establishing that the ‘hospitality building’ … would attract only tourists.”

The court also ruled that the council had discretion to waive the zoning ordinance’s prohibition of buildings larger than 10,000 square feet, since the council found that the applicant “cannot operate its winery effectively without expanding the footprint.”

The applicant has been paying for the city’s legal defense.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.