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Napa County's Bremer winery saga will continue

Napa County's Bremer winery saga will continue

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Bremer Family Winery (copy)

County supervisors said Bremer Family Winery can keep pedestrian bridges and rock walls built within a stream setback. But they want the Planning Commission to take a further look at a storage barn, pad, building addition and restroom.

Bremer Family Winery has more work to do legalize in Napa County’s eyes various structures within a stream setback.

Napa County supervisors earlier this month agreed that two pedestrian bridges and decorative rock walls can stay. But they want the Planning Commission to further discuss a storage barn, pad, building addition and restroom that under county conservation regulations are too close to the stream.

“Each of the six things that are before us fit into a different category, if you will,” Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon said.

But, she said, the Planning Commission “mushed” things together when granting after-the-fact stream setback exceptions for all six structures on Oct. 16.

Supervisors approved a motion of intent. County Counsel’s Office will return on May 5 with a proposed resolution to finalize the matter.

The matter ended up before the Board of Supervisors because Angwin resident Mike Hackett appealed the Planning Commission decision. He recently said that “our waterways, streams, rivers, creeks all belong to us, the public trust.”

This is only the latest in what has become a Bremer code enforcement saga. The county in 2017 sued the Deer Park area winery over various alleged violations such as having too much visitation, with the parties in 2019 agreeing to a settlement.

Among other things, the settlement required the Bremers to try to legalize the rock walls and pedestrian bridges within the stream setback. The Bremers submitted an application to the county seeking to do that. The request grew to include the storage barn, concrete pad, building addition and restrooms also in the setback.

The Bremers asked for after-the-fact setback exceptions to avoid having to tear down the structures. It was unclear from county reports what structures might predate the Bremers’ 2002 ownership.

Complicating matters was that the building addition constructed in 2011 and restroom constructed in 2012 by the Bremers have county building permits. But the county didn’t first require a stream setback exception.

“That’s on us,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “Government failed. That’s our responsibility.”

He expressed more concern about the storage barn and pad within the setback that don’t have building permits.

Hackett stated in an email that he appealed the Planning Commission’s approvals because he thinks the Bremers have ignored the rules. Also, he said, a county planning official appeared to be congratulating the Bremers’ lawyer and consultants after the October approvals and that disturbed him.

The county first sees a development from a developer’s view and tries to shoehorn a project in, Hackett wrote. The environment gets the leftovers.

But on March 17, “the supervisors appeared to put the environment first and its needs, and then took a look at the developer’s demands second,” Hackett wrote. “It felt good.”

Attorney David Gilbreth on behalf of Bremer Family Winery had a different perspective on the appeal. He questioned why the Bremers’ critics keep pursuing the matter, saying the Bremers have been mistreated.

“Punish them? Punish them for inheriting something they are correcting that they didn’t do? Not consistent with our rule of law. Certainly not consistent with what you were elected to do,” Gilbreth told supervisors.

Phill Blake, formerly of the Natural Resource Conservation District, and Geoff Monk of Monk & Associates testified on behalf of Bremer Family Winery. They said the structures are not hurting the stream.

“It’s incredible that we’re really here ... I think it’s outrageous,” said Gilbreth, who described the appeal as “frivolous” and lacking merit.

Supervisor Ryan Gregory noted the controversies surrounding Bremer Family Winery.

“I think there are deep issues between the Bremers and their neighbors, and there are deep issues in play here,” he said. “I guess I’m just surprised this is the battleground. I didn’t necessarily expect that.”

The Board of Supervisors viewed the storage barn, concrete pad, building addition and restroom as being part of the broader county code compliance cleanup effort. Dozens of wineries took up the county on its offer to try to settle rules violations without facing penalties.

“We have a large number of applications in the pipeline,” Dillon said. “I would like the Planning Commission to understand better how to review those. I think they mushed those four (structures) together with the two that were in the settlement agreement.”

Bremer Family Winery is located at 975 Deer Park Road in the mountains north of St. Helena.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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