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Don Williams' Wood Shop

Don Williams' Wood Shop on Washington Street was shut down Aug. 13 due to city code violations.

After red-tagging a wood working shop owned by Calistoga City Councilmember Don Williams in July, the city has cited Williams and his tenant, Paul Block, for use permit violations that must be corrected by Sept. 23.

In notices issued to Williams and Block on Aug. 23, the city found three violations of the property’s 1990 permit that include on-site manufacturing, improper storage of waste products, and materials stored outside the shop.

Responding to a complaint, the city inspected the property at 515 Washington St. on July 13 and found “large quantities of wood shavings (sawdust or combustive dust) being stored in a hazardous manner,” and “high pile storage of wood and wood products not meeting code standards.”

The notice gives specific instructions for extracting dust and eliminating dust so as not to worsen the situation.

Block is also instructed to remove stored material such as grape vines, barrel staves, and other combustible material.

While that area of Washington Street is a mixture of housing and industrial use, Williams’ property is zoned R3, or residential.

The property includes the shop and a house in front of it. In 1990, Williams was issued a permit by the city to operate his wood flooring business out of the shop. The permit’s original stated use was for office and storage space.

As a supplement to that permit, Williams wrote “Manufacturing of our product is performed at the jobsites, not at the wherehouse (sic).” He admits, however, there was some light manufacturing done at the shop.

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking about the incidental work,” he said, such as trimming baseboards.

Although Williams was forced to evict a different tenant from the space for living in his RV on the property earlier this year, the city said it has no record of past violations on the property.

Williams retired a few years ago and in May rented the space to Paul Block, who makes furniture out of recycled agricultural waste like wine barrels and grapevines. One of his benches has been sitting in front of the Calistoga Roastery downtown since 1998. Williams said he thought the business would be a “good fit” for the shop as it was similar to his own.

Block said the use permit was discussed before he signed the month-to-month lease. He said he told Williams he would be making furniture in the shop.

Manufacturing is a violation of the permit and Block will have to leave if he wants to continue to make furniture. However, flammable byproducts like sawdust and other combustible materials seem to be the larger issue.

Paul Coates and his wife, who is disabled, live directly behind Williams’ shop. In fact their bedroom is four feet from the shop, he said. Coates owns a construction company in town, and is also chair of the Calistoga Planning Commission. Although there was manufacturing going on in the shop, “My main concern is the potential for fire, and the situation was a major fire hazard with sawdust everywhere and dry materials against the walls stacked up to the top,” he said. “If there is a fire (at the shop), the potential for us dying is substantial. There’s just no way out.”

Coates also urged everyone who lives and works in the area to be safe, and added, “It sounds like the situation is getting resolved.”

Block said he understands that the area is a mix of industrial use and residential. He also disagrees that his business creates a fire hazard. His wood finishes are noncombustible and he isn’t using hazardous chemicals, he said. Instead, he said noise was likely an issue.

“It’s a noisy area. Somebody (who complained) is trying to keep it quiet. It’s like a not in my backyard scenario,” he said.

Block also faults himself for not letting the neighbors know more about his business.

“I’m at fault as well, because I didn’t introduce myself to the neighbors. Whenever I would have a party (for example), I’d go to the neighbors and tell them. It’s being proactive. It prevents them from calling the police by letting them know what’s going on. I didn’t do that, and the business is far more important. I had a big impact without saying ‘hello.’ If I went about it differently, then I wouldn’t be in this position.”

Block also said he’s frustrated at having to move eight times in the last 23 years. He had been looking for a shop to rent for 18 months before he found the place on Washington, and doesn’t understand why it’s so difficult in this area to find a place to do what he does.

“This might be the end of me,” he said. He’s now looking into the possibility of moving to Colorado or creating a position for himself recycling agricultural waste products in Napa Valley.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.