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A shrunken Carneros Lodge project received supervisors' approval Tuesday, after board members slashed rooms by three-quarters and reduced conference and retail space in response to community criticism.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of the modified project, with Supervisor Mark Luce as the only dissenting vote. The lodge would include 25 rooms, down from 100 initially proposed, at the intersection of Carneros and Old Sonoma highways.

The project was approved last August by the Planning Commission, but was appealed to the board by slow-growth advocates and neighbors. The newly approved plan would shrink the conference center to match the reduced number of rooms and cut retail space to 2,500 square feet from 5,000, but keep a restaurant, post office and other aspects of the original proposal.

After a day-long special meeting of the board, project opponents appeared elated by the decision. Eve Kahn of Get a Grip on Growth said the board took into consideration concerns about depleted groundwater and increased traffic in changing the project.

"The issue is not whether we hate this resort, the issue is (it was) too big for the infrastructure," Kahn said.

Project developer Keith Rogal refused to comment after the decision, including on whether he would sue the county over it. Rogal and his gaggle of attorneys, consultants and project supporters rushed out of board chambers after the vote with visible expressions of disgust on some of their faces.

Rogal spoke only briefly during the more than four hour meeting, while neighbors and other area residents repeatedly blasted the project. "This is incredible. This is insane," one project supporter was heard telling another as an opponent spoke.

In addition to the changes, supervisors added a series of requirements to the project, which will receive a technical final vote on Oct. 1. They include requiring owners to shut down rooms and restaurant space if water projections are exceeded, adding lanes to roads and other changes to address traffic concerns and legally tying together the three land parcels involved in the project so that one piece could not be separated and sold.

Water was the main issue of concern for opponents. Will Nord, who developed Carneros vineyards in the 1970s during an era of drought, said the project's wells could be pumped down to saltwater under similarly dry conditions.

Kahn presented new figures to show the developer failed to properly account for the project's water use. "The water use is definitely right on the edge, if not over the edge very quickly," she said.

But some area grape growers testified they found abundant groundwater when digging wells. Francis Mahoney, who owns vineyards near project, said he planted those grapes after he was wrongly told there was no water.

"You've got to take a chance like I took a chance," Mahoney said.

The uncertainty inspired board members to discuss a new effort to gauge Carneros groundwater. Supervisor Mel Varrelman said an area-wide study should be conducted.

"Nobody really knows whether there's water there or not," Varrelman said.

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One concern of opponents was that water use projections didn't include the 120-unit Carneros Inn project. The inn is to be integrated with the lodge, but was approved more than a decade ago and modified in 1998 to fit the new project.

Supervisor Mike Rippey said those 120 units would cause strain on groundwater and tried to eliminate all rooms in the lodge, but backed off after a closed session with county legal counsel. He called the project "a significant commercial operation" that "will have an urbanizing effect" on the rural area.

"I remain firm that I think it's too much for the parcel," Rippey said.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who represents the district where the project would be built, said the changes lessen water use and adequately respond to concerns over traffic.

"This is the best we're going to be able to do at this point," Wagenknecht said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 256-2260 or ncrabbe@napanews.com

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