Napa County is weighing whether requiring signs for rural development proposals is a good way to alert residents that their neighborhood might be changing.
Some county supervisors say the signs would get more people involved early in the public discourse over possible projects. Others noted the county has more than 75 pending projects and worry about sign clutter.
The debate is a sign of the times. Proposed wineries and winery expansions have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. People routinely express concerns about too much traffic and too much groundwater drawdown.
For now, the county will settle for mailing notices to neighbors living within 1,000 feet of a proposed project requiring environmental documents, an increase from the previous 300 feet. The Board of Supervisors approved this move on Tuesday.
Supervisors also discussed whether they need to do more. Supervisor Keith Caldwell brought up the sign idea.
“I just think because of the rural nature of the county, even expanding from 300 feet to 1,000 feet, you may or may not connect with any of the neighbors,” Caldwell said.
But Supervisor Diane Dillon said she could entertain the idea only if the signs are up for a short period. She already receives complaints about sign clutter in the county.
Gary Margadant, president of the Mount Veeder Stewardship Council, liked the sign idea.
“We don’t think of this as clutter,” he said. “We think of this as a notice to the neighbors so they can participate.”
To Caldwell, temporary signs announcing proposed wineries might be literally a sign of what’s to come. A winery, if approved, will want a permanent sign, he said.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza suggested there might be another way to tackle the issue in a high-tech world. He talked about using mobile phones and the Internet to alert residents to proposed projects.
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“It would be great to explore what technology can do for us,” Pedroza said.
But Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht favored Dillon’s suggestion for a pilot sign program, with Napa County’s main thoroughfares of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail exempted from the requirement. He sees advantages to having signs even in the Digital Age.
“I like the simplicity of it,” Wagenknecht said. “It’s low-tech. You’re going for your bike ride and you can see that.”
Any decision on the sign idea will come at a future Board of Supervisors meeting.
Supervisor Mark Luce had another idea for getting people involved early in proposed development discussions. He suggested having the county release administrative drafts of environmental impact reports. These drafts are circulated only among county officials for comments on accuracy.
Developers might take a different course if they learn early on about public concerns, Luce said.
County Deputy Planning Director John McDowell said administrative drafts are works in progress and might have inaccuracies. Sometimes, various versions have conflicting information, he said.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Luce said, adding releasing administrative drafts would give others a chance to “check your grammar or anything else that is in the report.” It could encourage collaboration that is missing.
People can already get involved early in the planning process, said David Morrison, director of the Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department. They can comment on initial project concepts and attend community meetings to suggest what topics should be addressed by environmental impact reports.
The board took no vote on the administrative draft proposal.