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Wine Industry

Napa County approves a winery on an 'eyesore' Calistoga site

Owners of the Flynnville property along Highway 29 south of Calistoga kept shrinking their winery proposal to finally reach a size that satisfied the Napa County Planning Commission.

A 2013 proposal for 14 mini-wineries producing 300,000 gallons annually and entertaining up to 500 visitors daily is long gone. One critic called it “an industrialization of the ag preserve.”

Owners returned to the commission on Feb. 15 asking for a 60,000-gallons-a-year winery with up to 25 visitors daily. Commissioners urged applicants to think smaller yet and work with concerned neighbors.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a 40,000-gallons-a-year winery with up to 25 visitors daily. Six parcels will be merged into a 10-acre parcel, the minimum size for a winery.

“In the end, this is an ag use in an ag area,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill said.

But several neighbors opposed the winery as proposed. Commissioners urged Flynnville to continue working with them, even with the approval.

“I, too, would like to see more communication and negotiation with the neighbors,” Commissioner Terry Scott said. “This project will be part of the neighborhood from now on.”

Flynnville is located at 1184 Maple Lane and borders Highway 29. The property has seen industrial and commercial uses since the early 1960s, things that are usually illegal in agricultural areas but can stay as “legal non-conforming” because such uses predate the site’s agricultural zoning.

The 10-acre project site has 10 buildings and a carport, with five of the structures to be demolished to make room for the winery. Buildings to remain include ones with Jim’s Supply and Wine Country Cases.

All of this makes the Flynnville winery proposal different than typical winery proposals for properties with vineyards and perhaps a house.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge and emphasize this is a very unique property,” Scott said. “It is the first one of its kind I’ve seen in 16 years of sitting here.”

Dan Pina and his partners are the owners. Pina told commissioners he has worked with his neighbors on the project and has made changes.

“We’ve done what we can,” Pina said. “The economic feasibility of the project has kind of handicapped us because some of the requests just aren’t possible.”

Consultant Jeffrey Redding on behalf of the applicants made a similar point.

“There’s no point building a project that sits like a dead soldier in the landscape,” he said.

Will Drew has long owned property next to Flynnville. He gave commissioners a history of the area spanning several decades and sees the new proposal as a matter of tourism versus agriculture.

“My opposition is based on the farm family life I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy in Napa Valley,” Drew told commissioners.

Commissioner Michael Basayne said Drew’s comments “remind us of simpler times, perhaps even better than they are today.”

Soda Canyon resident David Hallett noted that the Flynnville winery request requires three county rules exceptions to required road setbacks for wineries. A rule exception is also known as a variance, and some critics say the commission issues too many.

One rule exception is to allow a winery building within 150 feet of the Highway 29 center line, far short of the 600-foot setback. Two others are to allow winery buildings within the 300-foot setback for smaller roads.

“This is the time for you to stand up and say, ‘Not every 10-acre parcel is suitable for a winery,’” Hallett told commissioners.

County staff supported the variance request for a project with roads on four sides. A county report said adhering to the road setbacks would leave barely any of the property able to be developed for a winery.

“This is truly a unique property,” Redding said. “If you were going to look at a project for which a variance is appropriate, this is the one you want to consider as the poster child.”

Commissioner Anne Cottrell said the county’s goal is to be sparing with variances. But she and other commissioners approved the three road setback exceptions, given the property’s constraints.

Some neighbors see the project as an unfortunate mix of a winery with the older, commercial structures. That view met with a degree of agreement from on the Planning Commission.

“I’d like to see all the legal, non-comforming uses gone and cleaned up ... a clean plate,” Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said. “However, that’s not what we have here. The legal, non-conforming uses are there and allowed to continue.”

Project proponents say there’s an advantage to having many, though not all, of the old structures removed for the winery. The new look will be better, they said.

“What’s there is an eyesore,” project architect Thomas Faherty said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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