Opponents of the Davies Family Winery expansion and tasting room have sued the city of St. Helena and the City Council for approving the project in November.
The suit argues the city and the council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not ordering an environmental impact report, even though there was “substantial evidence” that the project would have significant impact on safety, noise, water and traffic.
The suit was filed Dec. 31 in Napa Superior Court by Geoff Ellsworth and Susan Kenward, also using the name Citizens’ Voice St. Helena.
On Monday City Attorney Tom Brown said he couldn’t comment because the city hadn’t seen or been served with the suit.
Ellsworth said the plaintiffs are asking the city not to defend the suit, and hope citizens will write to the city asking them to do the same to save taxpayer money. If the new City Council doesn’t defend itself against the suit, the matter will go straight to a judge for a ruling, Ellsworth said.
The plaintiffs allege that the project near the corner of Highway 29 and Grayson Avenue violates General Plan policies that favor local-serving businesses and exceeds the maximum building footprint of 10,000 square feet allowed by the Service Commercial zoning ordinance.
The suit, which also names Hugh Davies and the Davies winery as “real parties in interest,” asks the court to reverse the council’s ruling and bar the project from moving ahead.
During public hearings, Ellsworth and Kenward were among the critics who branded the project an “events center,” due to a slate of marketing events that critics said would allow more than 66,000 visitors per year. They asked the council to order a full environmental impact report rather than the less intensive mitigated negative declaration.
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“The Event Center, which is also located immediately across the street from a public high school and within close vicinity to an elementary school, raises substantial issues regarding noise, traffic, and pedestrian safety,” the suit alleges.
Wineries were a source of controversy throughout Napa County in 2014, with projects like the Yountville Hill Winery being criticized for being too big and having too many environmental impacts.
“The size and environmental impact of this project is a game changer in St. Helena,” Ellsworth and Kenward said in a statement. “This project sets an unwelcome precedent for similar projects; it negates the city-zoning ordinance, General Plan and Winery Definition Ordinance.”
“Although it may be a tenet of the Ag Preserve that new development goes into our municipalities rather than the county growing region, developments must still adhere to the rules and scale of the municipality. This project does not. Our intention is not to deny the Davies Family a project, but rather to ensure that whatever project they do is consistent with our General Plan and with the well-being of our community.”
The council tentatively approved the project on Oct. 28, but told staff to add conditions addressing noise, parking and pedestrian safety. The plaintiffs say the extra conditions and findings were discussed after the public hearing was closed, leaving the public no chance to comment.
“At the Nov. 25 meeting, it was pointed out that the draft resolution did not include promised mitigation measures that were requested at the October meeting and added measures that did not address the issues raised by the council,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.”Citizens’ Voice firmly objected to the addition of mitigations after the close of the public hearing and these additional measures therefore demonstrated that the city recognized their failure to adequately evaluate the impact of the project.”
Approving the Davies project, which also involved expanding wine production from 20,000 to 75,000 gallons per year, was the last major action taken by the previous City Council. The final vote was 4-1, with Councilmember Sharon Crull voting against the project after saying the marketing plan was too aggressive.
Since then, Alan Galbraith has replaced Ann Nevero as mayor and Paul Dohring has taken over Mario Sculatti’s council seat.