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Vintage junior Pedja Zivkovic sacks Acalanes quarterback Nick Kresnak on Aug. 24 at Napa Memorial Stadium.

Fun with art: New play structures for Playground Fantástico win Napa committee’s support

Where the wooden play structures of a well-loved Napa playground have been recently taken down, a pair of whimsically designed replacements will rise next year – outdoor artworks for children to clamber and climb upon.

Two custom-designed play structures are headed to Playground Fantástico in south Napa after their approval Tuesday night by the city’s Public Arts Steering Committee. 

Penned by the Napa-based designer Daniel Wodarcyk, the installations will be built mainly from steel and include one structure for older children up to age 12 and a second geared for youngers ages 2 to 5 – with its structural elements spelling out “N-A-P-A” when seen in profile.

Construction of the rebooted Playground Fantástico, off Old Sonoma road near the Harvest and River middle schools, is expected to take place in the spring of 2019. The facility has been closed since demolition began Oct. 22 on the original wooden structures, which parks officials have said reached the end of their useful life after more than a decade and a half.

Conceptual drawings published by the city show a structure for younger children formed in the shape of the city name’s four letters, with a slide on the left flank of the “N” and a crawling tube passing through the “P.” A structure for older children would be built around two tower-like platforms with peaked roofs, as well as a pair of enclosed, tube-like slides.

The new design evolved from talks this spring and summer between parks staff and members of the team of Napa volunteers that built Playground Fantástico in 2002, according to Ali Koenig, city parks and recreation project manager.

Wodarcyk, who owns the local design firm S2 Associates Inc., was a member of the playground’s original team, which led a breakneck building campaign that erected the facility in six days with the help of several thousand volunteers and $400,000 in donations.

Unlike the community-built model that brought the playground into being in 2002, the new play structures will be prefabricated off-site and then installed in Napa. For safety reasons, opportunities for volunteer labor likely will involve installing non-customized fixtures at the venue, under professional supervision, Koenig told the committee.

While Napa has budgeted $475,000 for the project, another $350,000 is needed to enhance the playground with unique equipment “to maintain the sense of wonder, creativity and fantástico” of the original, Matt Eisenberg, a Napa father who was the project coordinator in 2002, said last month. The Foundation for Napa Recreation is taking mail-in donations and has opened a GoFundMe contribution website for the project.

Napa estimates the artistic play structures will cost $15,000, meeting a city requirement that large-scale construction projects devote at least 1 percent of the project cost to public art.

Other fixtures at Playground Fantástico have been preserved and will be carried over to the new version, including swings, shade structures, pathways, a picnic area, mosaics and a sculpture by the Napa artist Gordon Huether.

Wine Industry
New beginning sought for Napa Valley winery tied to Dahl murder-suicide

A Napa wine property with a recent history tinged with tragedy and rebirth is once again on the market and headed for a new beginning.

The modest property south of Yountville drew national attention in 2015 with the murder-suicide committed there by Robert Dahl, owner of Dahl Vineyards, the site’s then-tenant winery.

The property’s current owners, the McVicar family, founded a winery there in 1988 as a 20,000-gallon-a-year project that was not allowed to receive visitors. The property was the home of Chateau Chais de Napa until the 2000’s. The winery building was vacant until Dahl leased it in the summer of 2014.

Less than a year later, the site was shuttered after Dahl gunned down Emad Tawfilis, an investor in Dahl Vineyards, and killed himself shortly after. Tawfilis had come to the winery in an attempt to reclaim $1.2 million that he had lent to Dahl.

During a conference call between the men’s lawyers, Dahl, 47, pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and began chasing Tawfilis through a vineyard. He fired four shots while Tawfilis screamed for help in a cellphone call to police dispatch.

When Dahl caught up with Tawfilis, he killed him with a shot to the head, then fled in his SUV, sheriff’s deputies in pursuit, to a site off Oakville Grade where he killed himself, investigators said.

The incident was featured in a “48 Hours” episode on CBS, with the program promising a look at “ambition, greed and gunshots at a Napa Valley winery.”

Following the tragedy, the McVicars evicted Dahl Vineyards and took back control of the winery building. Through Michael Crain, owner of Michael Crain Properties, which is representing the property, the family declined to discuss the site’s history and their decision now to sell.

But for close to $6 million, a prospective vintner can bring a new identity to the 7.5-acre plot at 6155 Solano Ave., with its permitted winery building and six acres of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the few months that he operated his winery at the site, Dahl made significant upgrades to the property, including the addition of a tasting room. Dahl’s work was made without building permits, which caught the attention of the county and resulted in two code compliance cases in 2014.

In October 2016, the McVicars sought a new chapter for the property, one that would allow for visitors and marketing events.

The county planning commission approved the site then for a reimagined 1,131- square-foot winery building with a 300-square-foot tasting room, as well as a covered crush pad and patio. Planners approved visitor numbers at 12 per day, with a maximum of 84 visitors a week. The site was also approved to host 10 marketing events a year with at most 30 guests per event.

According to county planners, the visitors numbers approved in 2016 still apply for the site today, while the winery’s production levels of 20,000 gallons a year remained unchanged.

Proposed American Canyon commercial solar farm awaits a tie-breaker
Green Energy

A bid to create Napa County’s first commercial solar energy farm ended in a Planning Commission draw, with the tie-breaker to come next week.

County Commissioners Dave Whitmer and Andrew Mazotti on Wednesday voted for the project. Commissioners Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher voted against it. The commission will try again on Dec. 5 when Commissioner Jeri Hansen should be present.

Renewable Properties President Aaron Halimi made the pitch for his company’s proposed 18-acre, 12,000-panel solar farm at 2180 American Canyon Road near American Canyon. He noted it would border Interstate 80 and wouldn’t be on prime farmland.

“This is the perfect project site,” Halimi said.

Renewable Properties will withdraw another application for a separate commercial solar energy farm in the rural Coombsville area near the city of Napa, he said. He didn’t want this more controversial proposal to interfere with the American Canyon project.

But the American Canyon proposal has also proven controversial. Critics want the county to craft commercial solar farm regulations before setting a precedent for other possible solar farms amid the county’s farmland.

“What is the rush to judgement on the proposal before you now?” Eve Kahn of Get a Grip on Growth wrote to the commission.

Cottrell agreed the commission needs more guidance than existing county rules provide, guidance that would have to come from the Board of Supervisors.

“There’s so much about this project I’m in support of,” Cottrell said. “I just think we need more regulations in place before going forward.”

Mazotti and Whitmer also supported having Napa County create commercial solar regulations, but still favored the American Canyon solar farm. The solar farm is to sell enough power for 1,000 homes to Marin Clean Energy, which serves Napa County.

“I think it’s a good project and I worry about the opportunity going away if we delay and wait for regulations to be in place,” Mazotti said.

The county allows in all zoning district various “public utility uses,” including electric generating plants. Project opponents questioned whether a private corporation such as Renewable Properties qualifies as a public utility.

“Just calling the project a public utility to shoehorn it into an allowable use subverts our county’s entire zoning plan,” resident Kathy Felch wrote to the county.

County staff reached a different conclusion. County Planning Manager Vincent Smith said the project would generate power for the public through Marin Clean Energy and this qualifies as a public utility use.

Cottrell didn’t disagree, but saw a flaw.

“I think just the fact we have so much discussion on this means it’s not so clear as it could be,” she said.

A public speaker told the commission that the American Canyon property is used to board horses and other animals, including her own horse. The point struck home for Gallagher.

“This is clearly being used for agriculture, and my inclination is to preserve agriculture,” Gallagher said.

Whitmer found reasons to support the project.

“I think as a county we need to take seriously the realities of climate change and our role in trying to help to deal with that issue on a local basis,” he said.

The Dec. 5 meeting should yield the commission’s decision. Deputy County Counsel Laura Anderson said after the meeting that the public testimony portion of the hearing is closed, with only continued commission deliberations and action to come.

The Planning Commission first discussed the American Canyon solar farm on Oct. 17, when all five commissioners were present. It postponed the matter because Solano County Airport Land Use Commission staff wanted Travis Air Force Base officials to review the project’s glare study.

Smith said the county as of Wednesday morning had received no comments on the project from Travis Air Force Base.