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Carneros Resort and Spa

Napa County may have finally found an answer to the long-running Carneros Resort and Spa puzzle, one that would both end the trucking of water to the property and give the county a new fire station site.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed the idea of having a development agreement with the owners. Among other things, this agreement would allow the piping of city of Napa water to the resort at 4048 Sonoma Highway.

Supervisor Diane Dillon said that, had she been on the Board of Supervisors when it approved the resort in 2002, she would have voted “no” because of Carneros area water challenges. But the resort is there, she said.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to let it dry up and blow away,” Dillon said.

The proposed development agreement and an application for various changes at the Carneros Resort and Spa are to go to the county Planning Commission later this year.

“We hope this will tie up all the loose ends,” said Greg Flynn, who became an owner of the resort in 2014.

County Board of Supervisors chairman Brad Wagenknecht depicted the county’s goal as bringing the saga of the Carneros resort to an end.

“There is no more development potential on the site,” he said. “That’s got to be made clear. This is done, as far as the county of Napa is concerned.”

The Carneros Resort and Spa is a dash of Napa County luxury amid the vineyards and agricultural land southwest of the city of Napa. It has such features as 86 units ranging from cottages to suites, a swimming pool, spa, 24 homes, the Farm restaurant and the Boon Fly Café.

The county intended the rural development to use well water when it granted approvals in 2002, as is standard policy for the unincorporated areas. But groundwater quality and quantity problems led to the resort also trucking in city of Napa water.

Meanwhile, the resort wants to make such changes as relocating its Boon Fly Café, installing a pickle ball court, relocating the main entryway and replacing the wood fence along Old Sonoma Road with a sound wall. A 2015 application to the county stalled amid the water trucking dispute.

Key to a proposed development agreement is the water-trucking issue. Carneros Resort and Spa would work to install a half-mile-long water line to pipe in city of Napa water from Congress Valley. Then it would cease using groundwater and trucking in water.

In return, the county would not pursue enforcement actions over water issues against the resort’s Carneros Inn Mutual Water Co. The resort has permission from the city of Napa to pipe in 11 million to 14 million gallons annually of city water, but still must work out details and build the water line.

Kerry Smith owns an adjacent commercially zoned parcel. She asked the Board of Supervisors if she too could use city water by extending the planned Carneros resort line, but didn’t receive permission.

“It (the resort) is within 1,000 feet of our property,” Smith said.

Smith said after the meeting that her property doesn’t have groundwater problems. Flynn, who stood nearby, told her that the resort will pay higher rates for the Napa water than those living in the city, so that groundwater is a cheaper option.

In theory, a water line carrying city water could open the door to more development in the area. But county officials said intent is to size the pipe to serve only the resort.

The agreement also calls for the resort to give the county one acre of land along Old Sonoma Road. The resort would move a nearby county fire station to the property, giving the station room to grow that is lacking at the present .20-acre site.

One issue arose over relocating the Boon Fly Café to the same parcel as The Market on the multi-parcel resort. That would be a total of 150 dining seats on one parcel, exceeding the county limit of 100 seats per parcel.

“How can we violate our own code?” Dillon said, adding that doing so would set a bad precedent.

Overall, the 28-acre resort would still have the same number of restaurant seats as currently. Supervisor Belia Ramos suggested merging parcels so the resort at a later date couldn’t try to get another 100 seats where the Boon Fly Café is now.

Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison stressed that the proposed changes at the resort involve moving things around, not expanding.

Some members of the public questioned whether the county would be receiving enough from the resort in return for an agreement.

“Without water, this resort doesn’t exist,” resident George Caloyannidis said. “It’s a matter of life and death for them.”

The Carneros Resort and Spa property has a long commercial history, though previous undertakings hardly qualified as swank. A half-century ago, it had a burger restaurant, bar and a trailer park. In the 1970s, the county agreed to leave the land as commercially zoned and various development proposals surfaced in subsequent years.

Keith Rogal, who later spearhead the Napa Pipe development project on the east bank of the Napa River, south of Napa Valley College, began working on a resort proposal in the late 1990s. That sparked debate over the size of such a commercial undertaking in an agricultural area. The county approved a smaller-than-proposed version of the Carneros resort in 2002.

Wagenknecht said the environmental study and water engineers in 2002 said the property had enough groundwater for the development, even though anecdotal evidence from nearby rural property owners said otherwise. The county’s water reports proved to be wrong.

“It has tainted my view of hydraulic engineers and what their surety (is),” Wagenknecht said.

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Napa County Reporter

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