Two winery applications — Mountain Peak and Staglin — will have the Napa County Board of Supervisors weighing once again if visitation that wineries say is reasonable might hurt rural neighborhoods.
These two cases are very different. Mountain Peak is a yet-to-be-built winery targeted for the hills above Soda Canyon. Staglin Family Vineyard is a famous, established winery on the Napa Valley floor.
But both are a sign of the times. Proponents say their proposals comply with county policies for making and selling wine. Some neighbors say the requested numbers of winery visitors will cause traffic and wildfire evacuation problems.
Both cases have been vetted and decided at county public hearings, but are still being contested. Supervisors are to hear the Mountain Peak case on Tuesday and the Staglin case in the coming months.
Mountain Peak Winery
The controversial Mountain Peak Winery will go before the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday for the first time since 2017, when it won approval. Action since then has been in Napa County Superior Court.
In accordance with a court order, supervisors will reconsider the Mountain Peak Winery approval in light of the subsequent October 2017 Atlas Fire that burned much of Soda Canyon.
Opponents portray building a 100,000-gallon-a-year winery with about 14,500 annual visitors near the end of 6-mile-long, dead-end road in an area vulnerable to wildfires as folly. They point to the Atlas Fire as proof.
A new Napa County staff report finds no reason to reverse or modify county approvals in light of the Atlas Fire. The court specified what evidence the Board of Supervisors is to consider.
“The county cannot plan for every possible eventuality, but should rely on regulations designed to ensure that projects are safe under most circumstances,” a county report said. “Here, the project meets all of the regulatory requirements related to wildfires.”
Opponents describe Soda Canyon Road as narrow and winding and not suitable to serve a winery of this size. The county staff report reaches a different conclusion and says the road can handle evacuations.
“Soda Canyon Road is a fairly typical hillside public road and the accident history on the road is primarily the result of unsafe driving as opposed to hazardous driving conditions,” the report said. “Traffic volumes on Soda Canyon Road are low.”
Court papers describe harrowing evacuation stories by Soda Canyon residents during the windswept night the 2017 Atlas Fire broke out. Cynthia Grupp told how a fallen, large oak tree across Soda Canyon Road blocked evacuees.
“For several minutes, we all — approximately 15 to 20 of us — waited, watching the fire coming down toward us, as the pickup truck attempted to pull the tree out of the way using a rope or chain,” Grupp said in court papers.
But, the county report said, the tree was removed and people evacuated. The proposed winery has no features that would exacerbate the potential for falling trees. In addition, hundreds of trees have been removed from Soda Canyon Road since the Atlas Fire, significantly reducing the potential for such a road obstruction to happen again.
Mountain Peak Winery is to have a cave and as a last resort the cave during a wildfire could provide a safe shelter-in-place haven, the report said.
"No credible evidence established that the addition of another winery along Soda Canyon Road would significantly increase the risk of fire or significantly hinder rescue efforts," it said.
The group Napa Vision 2050 issued a “call to action” for the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting. The email alert said that “incredibly,” the county’s staff report “completely ignores all of the evidence from the 2017 Atlas Fire.”
The Mountain Peak hearing begins at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the county administration building, 1195 Third St. in the city of Napa.
Staglin Family Vineyard
Another issue that will go to the Board of Supervisors at some point is a proposal by Staglin Family Vineyard winery in Napa Valley’s Rutherford area to add visitation.
The county Planning Commission on March 3 approved allowing Staglin winery to go from 3,167 visitors annually to about 10,500.
That prompted a double appeal to the Board of Supervisors. Neither the Staglins nor a group of more than 24 people going under the name Rutherford Bench Alliance was satisfied.
Bella Oaks Lane is the sole road serving Staglin winery and lacks sidewalks. More winery visitor traffic would negatively affect the rural neighborhood, the Rutherford Bench Alliance appeal said.
“Children play and ride bicycles on Bella Oaks Lane, while other residents use the road for walks and horseback riding,” the appeal said.
In addition, more winery traffic could hinder wildfire evacuations, the appeal said. The road lacks the capacity to serve evacuating residents and winery visitors and employees while also providing access for emergency vehicles, it said.
The Staglins, in contrast, want a few more marketing events. The Planning Commission denied their request for two 70-person events. It cut a request for three 100-person events to one event and didn’t allow evening hours.
Eliminating these events wasn’t necessary to address any of the project impacts, the Staglin appeal said.
Garen Staglin at the March 3 Planning Commission explained why the winery made its expansion request. He talked about the family’s commitment to estate wine, the environment and the community and to keeping the winery in the family for future generations.
“In order for us to honor all of those commitments, however, we have to be able to sell wine,” Staglin said. “It doesn’t sell itself.”
County plans call for the Board of Supervisors to open the hearing on June 15, but only to continue it to a date tentatively set as Sept. 28.
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