A new Scarlett winery won Napa County Planning Commission approval to be built on the Napa Valley floor east of Rutherford, even though the access from a narrow road has neighbors seeing red.
The 30,000-gallon-a-year winery is to be located on 48 acres. Up to 4,900 combined tasting and marketing event visitors annually will reach the winery from Ponti Road, which has several homes.
“This is an invasion of a neighborhood that is unique in the county,” resident Nancy Montgomery told commissioners.
Neighbors asked that the planned winery location be shifted on the site and that the entrance be from Silverado Trail, which borders the property. Then winery visitor traffic wouldn’t use Ponti Road.
Consultant Donna Oldford represented applicant Sherratt Reicher, who wants to build Scarlett winery. She said creating a Silverado Trail entrance would add more than $1 million to project costs and cause other difficulties.
“Wineries and residents have existed copacetically,” Oldford said. “They’ve co-existed in the Napa Valley quite nicely for decades.”
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission approved the winery with the Ponti Road entrance by a 4-1 vote.
Ponti Road is 15 feet wide. The Montgomerys engaged the law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, which pointed to a county road standard calling for a 20-foot width with one-foot shoulders.
“Quite simply, Ponti Road is too narrow to support evacuating vehicles and emergency response vehicles …. Access to a commercial winery on Ponti Road has the potential to create a recipe for disaster,” attorney Ellison Folk wrote.
The Scarlett winery would be in the heart of Napa Valley. But, because of the proposed Ponti Road access, Folk called the site “remote.”
County Public Works Director Steven Lederer said the county road standard applies to new road construction, not existing roads. Many wineries are on roads that don’t meet that standard. About a third of county roads don’t meet that standard.
“That’s typical for counties that have been around for 150 years,” Lederer said.
County public works staff and the fire officials found no disqualifying safety issues with Ponti Road.
County general plan policies discourage the addition of new driveways to Silverado Trail, Lederer said. The goal is to maintain traffic flow.
Reicher in a letter said creating a Silverado Trail entrance would entail removing two acres of vineyards. He would need to relocate power lines, remove trees, add a Silverado Trail left-turn lane and build an access road to reach a winery that county setbacks require to be at least 600 feet from Silverado Trail.
But Ponti Road resident Chris Lenzo said Ponti Road’s narrowness will cause problems. Two cars cannot pass, he said.
“There is a safety issue,” Lenzo told commissioners. “Lives are at stake here, potentially.”
Commissioner Jeri Hanson called the Ponti Road dispute the “elephant in the room.” She said the Silverado Trail option seemed to be off the table, given the applicant’s reluctance and Lederer’s comments about trying to limit Silverado Trail driveways.
“I am not inclined to compel an applicant to completely change an entire project because of that,” she said.
The Planning Commission previously heard the Scarlett winery case on Oct. 2. Commissioners delayed making a decision then to give the applicant and neighbors more time to try to work out an agreement.
“There has been some back-and forth, there just hasn’t been a meeting of minds,” Oldford said. “Sometimes, you just have to agree to disagree.”
Commissioner Anne Cottrell cast the lone “no” vote for Scarlett winery. She was willing to entertain a postponement request from one of the neighbors who thought the parties might still be able to reach an acceptable compromise.
Cottrrell also said the Silverado Trail option might be better for the winery in the long run by placing less restrictions on it to meet neighbor concerns.
Montgomery immediately after the meeting said no decision had yet been made about a possible appeal to the county Board of Supervisors to overturn the Planning Commission decision.
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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