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.