Blakeley Construction will move its operations from the rural property it has occupied near Calistoga for 55 years following a dispute with the county over zoning and building permit issues.
Representatives for the county and the family-owned business signed an agreement filed with Napa County Superior Court. Blakeley Construction has two-and-a-half years to vacate the 310 Franz Valley School Road site.
The dispute came down to whether Blakeley Construction could continue operating on agriculturally zoned land, given that it has done so since 1961. The outcome raises questions about the future of a company that has for a half-century been part of the Calistoga business community.
Blakeley Construction President Dick Blakeley said the company remains open and that he wants to continue operations at a different location, if he can find one. But suitable space is tight in wine country.
“We’ve been looking,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of places out there, nothing we’ve heard of without going out of the county. We’ve heard there might be something in south Napa County, but we’re a northern Napa County company that has most of our following in a 10-mile or 15-mile radius.”
Blakeley said the company needs about an acre with commercial zoning at a location where trucks and tractors wouldn’t be a problem.
The court agreement details how the Blakeleys must phase out their construction operations on the Franz Valley School Road property by June 30, 2018. It calls for the Blakeleys to pay the county $84,272, of which $73,000 is a civil penalty and $11,272 is to cover county administrative and legal costs in the case.
“We’re not on property that’s zoned right,” Blakeley said. “We also have buildings built without the aid of permits in the early 70s. There’s a lot of buildings in the area where that was done.”
Dick and Kelly Blakeley went before the county Zoning Administrator last June to ask the county to declare their land use as being nonconforming but legal. The county took testimony and then continued the hearing to another day, but that day never came.
“Instead, we reached a different agreement to go down a different path,” Deputy County Counsel Carrie Gallagher said.
Code violations have been a hot issue in recent years, with some in the community saying the county too readily grants forgiveness. Usually, however, the controversies have involved wineries.
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“The county is in a tough position,” Dick Blakeley said. “With the groundswell of what people want right now, with this coming up at this time, it was a hard thing to do. Ten years ago, it might have been grandfathered in, but it’s not 10 years ago.”
The court agreement calls for the Blakeleys to withdraw their application for a certificate of legal nonconformity.
Zoning Administrator hearings are typically low-key affairs held in a small room in the county Administration Building. But about 80 people turned out for the June 23, 2015 hearing on Blakeley Construction.
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said before the hearing that Blakeley Construction since opening in 1961 has had a big impact on Calistoga.
“They’ve employed hundreds, if not thousands, of Calistogans during that period,” Canning said. “They built a good part of Calistoga.”
Robert and Melissa Kennedy of Kennedy Estate Vineyards on Franz Valley School Road engaged an attorney who made the case at the hearing against the Blakeley’s request.
In a letter last year, the Kennedys said they harbor no ill-will against the Blakeleys. Rather, they want to restore the agricultural land use to the Blakeley site so they can peacefully enjoy their own property.
The Blakeleys through their attorney asserted that their operations have been acknowledged by the county over the years. The county repeatedly used Blakeley Construction to make emergency repairs and county employees at various times said the business was “grandfathered in.”
But a county report prepared for the hearing said none of these claims of county endorsements compelled the county to declare Blakeley Construction a legal, non-conforming use.
With the court agreement now in place, the issue appears to be settled. Blakeley Construction, meanwhile, faces an unsettled future.
“I’m not going out of business,” Dick Blakeley said. “I don’t want to, anyway.”