Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday rejected the proposed Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery. Several commissioners questioned whether the property was suitable for a winery, given the road setback exceptions required.

In a rare move, the Napa County Planning Commission decided a proposed new winery has fatal flaws that merit outright rejection.

The commission on Wednesday denied approval to the proposed Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery. Proponents said after the meeting that they are inclined to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

A 3-2 vote saw Commissioners Anne Cottrell, Joelle Gallagher and Terry Scott voting against approval. Commissioners Jeri Hansen and Michael Basayne didn’t favor approval, but were willing to let the applicants come back with a modified proposal.

“Unfortunately, I think it is a square peg in a round hole,” Gallagher said. “It really isn’t what is most appropriate for the site.”

Napa County allows wineries on rural properties 10 acres or greater with a use permit. But, Cottrell said, not all 10-acre sites are appropriate for a winery.

The proposed, 30,000-gallon-a-year winery would be located at Dry Creek and Mount Veeder roads more than seven miles northwest of the city of Napa. Much of the 56-acre site has steep, tree-covered hills, with a relatively flat spot proposed as the winery site.

However, the proposal had a crush pad located 84 feet from Mount Veeder Road and the winery 104 feet from Mount Veeder Road. That’s within the county’s 300-foot setback for such roads.

A county report said the proposal can meet the findings for a rules exception called a variance. Among other things, the variance could preserve enjoyment of property rights, given the winery would otherwise have to be built on steep slopes. Building a driveway to an alternate location on the property could cost $1 million.

County staff recommended granting the variance and approving the project as being consistent with county zoning and the county general plan. But commissioners were unconvinced.

“We need to be very careful about variances, I think,” Scott said.

Gallagher was concerned about the grape source for the winery. She noted the site itself has no vineyards and asked if the owners grew grapes at another site nearby. The answer was negative.

“For this winery to get going, it would need to develop relationships with independent growers in the area,” attorney Thomas Carey said on behalf of the applicants.

Gallagher found the situation as being too speculative. The county often approves wineries that process grapes grown on the property or grown nearby by the winery builder.

“That’s not the case here,” she said. “It’s more of a ‘if we build it, they will come’ type of scenario, which I’m not really comfortable with.”

Mount Veeder resident Harris Nussbaum said the area went through the Nuns fire last October and now has trucks on narrow roads because of the fire cleanup. He didn’t want to see a new winery as well.

“Perhaps now is not the time to approve something until the community has healed,” he said. “Let us heal.”

Hansen wondered if the variance request could be scaled back by reducing the parking lot size. Then the crush pad and winery locations might be reconfigured.

“I think there are some possibilities to do that,” she said. “I’m not sure we have all the answers today.”

She and Basayne were willing to give the applicants the chance to try a reconfiguration, with no guarantees of commission approval. But the majority of the commissioners didn’t think their concerns could be overcome.

Carey said the applicants are the Morris Trust. Bryant Morris of the trust previously owned the Aetna Springs resort in the Pope Valley area.

The Planning Commission has yet to approve a new winery this year, with the Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery the first proposed, new winery to come before it. Last year, it approved 10 new wineries and in 2016 it approved 11.

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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.