Council says small winery rules need more work

2013-09-11T12:40:00Z Council says small winery rules need more workJesse Duarte Napa Valley Register
September 11, 2013 12:40 pm  • 

Members of the St. Helena City Council say a new set of rules allowing more marketing events at small wineries still needs more work.

On Tuesday councilmembers commended the Planning Commission for its work on the proposed ordinance, but agreed the rules should be more detailed.

Commissioners wrote the new ordinance broadly so that the details of each new permit, such as the number of allowable events, could be worked out on a case-by-case basis, with input from neighbors. But councilmembers said they want the ordinance to be more specific about issues like noise, the types of allowable events, and the definition of a “small winery.”

A subcommittee of Councilmembers Greg Pitts and Peter White and Planning Commissioners Matthew Heil and Brian Russell will meet with local stakeholders, talk about some of the issues the council raised, and come back to the council with recommendations.

The ordinance is intended to support small, often historic wineries which have become increasingly reliant on direct sales and face-to-face marketing. The old ordinance prohibited public tours and tastings and required that winery operations be subordinate to residential use.

In the last few years, changing market conditions have led small wineries like Spottswoode, Anomaly Vineyards and David Fulton Winery to ask the city to relax its restrictions. The Planning Commission supported those requests and agreed the city should update its regulations.

City councilmembers supported one key regulation requiring that 50 percent of a small winery’s production must come from grapes grown on the premises, and 85 percent must come from Napa Valley grapes. That provision, which supporters say is a delicate compromise on a highly sensitive issue, resulted from a July meeting of industry members organized by the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce.

The 50-percent rule was intended to limit the size of a “small winery,” but councilmembers seemed to be leaning toward a more specific limit on production.

The council also discussed capping the number of small winery permits, at least until the city gets a clearer idea of how the new regulations will play out in real life.

General Plan

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council continued its review of the General Plan update.

It didn’t have time to delve into the most contentious issues that have come up lately, like the extension of Starr Avenue to Adams Street, possible limits on truck traffic on residential streets, the city’s policy toward allowing the Napa Valley Wine Train to disembark passengers, and the council’s move away from policies that promote traffic circulation, in favor of pedestrian- and bike-friendly initiatives.

The council did decide to delay changes to the city’s housing density regulations. Councilmembers agree the current allowable densities are too high, but decided not to make any changes until the city updates its Housing Element, which needs to be changed within the next year anyway to reflect lower housing quotas handed down by the state.

Maximum densities are 16 units per acre for Medium Density zones and 28 units per acre for High Density. Councilmembers say those numbers don’t reflect existing neighborhoods, and aren’t consistent with the General Plan’s goal of preserving St. Helena’s small-town character.

Affordable housing advocates have objected, saying the allowable densities were increased in the 2000s at the state’s request because the city needed to be able to provide more infill affordable housing without extending its Urban Limit Line.

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