A Skyline Wilderness Park mystery has emerged that has some people wondering if the state views the popular hiking area’s long-term future as being homes or even a quarry.
California owns the land and is leasing it to Napa County for a park until 2030. The county Board of Supervisors in 2009 created the Skyline zoning district limiting the land to agricultural or recreational uses such as camping, should the state ever sell it to a private party.
“What that effectively did was take away the residential estate home development potential,” said John Woodbury of the county Regional Park and Open Space District.
A week ago, the state Department of General Services filed an application with the county asking that the county remove the zoning overlay. It called the overlay “a contravention” of the Feb. 20, 1980, 50-year lease between the state and county.
Timing has added to some people’s concerns. The state in 2013 expanded its Bay Area map of important aggregate sources to include land that Syar Industries wants to add to its quarry adjacent to Skyline Park. In doing so, the state also classified part of Skyline Park itself as being an aggregate mineral resource.
“The process is based solely on geology, without regard to existing land use or land ownership,” a 2013 California Geological Survey report said.
Still, some Skyline Wilderness Park advocates are worried, though they can only guess what it might all mean for the park.
“Thirty-eight years of people planning and working on the park and the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours that have gone into the park should not just disappear in 15 years,” said Dorothy Glaros, president of the Skyline Park Citizens Association.
Given everything that’s going on, she said, she’s not even taking those remaining 15 years on the lease for granted.
The Skyline zoning district covers 944 acres of Skyline Wilderness Park and adjacent Camp Coombs. The state land is southeast of Napa along eastern Imola Avenue.
That newly filed zoning change application with the county yields no clues to the state’s motives. It asks that the county remove the zoning overlay, but says little more.
Department of General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson said his agency is in charge of state lands and surplus property. The question is how the Skyline zoning overlay impacts the property value for the state, he said.
“I know the intent is to start a discussion on the zoning here and whether this was done properly or improperly,” he said. “It’s something that came to our attention that we’re looking to address with the county.”
He didn’t say how the matter came to the state’s attention.
Woodbury said the state didn’t object to the Skyline zoning overlay before the Board of Supervisors passed it in 2009. But officials with the Department of General Services contacted him about two weeks after the move asking the county not to enact the overlay. It was too late.
“They went away angry,” Woodbury said. “But that was six years ago.”
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Napa County has attempted to buy Skyline from the state. The effort stalled when the state didn’t agree with an appraisal done on the property and sought another appraisal. But Woodbury said the state never presented the county with its own appraisal.
The legislation signed in 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allowing Napa County to buy Skyline expired in January.
“I think the county is still very interested in negotiating this,” Woodbury said. “We have been all along.”
Jeff Dodd spoke on behalf of the Syar Industries legal team. He speculated that the state might be trying to raise the value of Skyline before negotiating further to sell the park to the county.
Whatever is happening has nothing to do with Syar Industries, Dodd said. Syar has no designs on someday mining the park or seeing estate homes built there. It wants the park to remain a park in perpetuity and serve as a buffer between the quarry and neighborhoods, he said.
“We are 100 percent opposed to any changes in the overlay zoning of Skyline Park,” Dodd said. “We will work hand-in-hand with the county and Skyline Park to withdraw the application.”
He noted the state filed the application the day after Syar won tentative approval from the Planning Commission on Oct. 21 to expand the quarry. Although the expansion includes no Skyline property, Skyline advocates have expressed concern that mining the expansion area will cause more dust and noise for park hikers.
All of that has made Skyline Wilderness Park a sensitive topic in some quarters.
“Filing the application the day after — literally 12 hours after — the project got approvals is just evidence the state is out of touch with what’s going on here locally,” Dodd said.
County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said county officials have talked with state officials since their filing. State officials indicated that the application was on their list of tasks and happened to come to fruition at this time.
Napa County will make sure the application is complete and ready to be processed, Morrison said. The county is looking at some directions he is not yet ready to talk about. If the county processes the state’s application, the request will move forward to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in public meetings.
Woodbury said it isn’t clear that the zoning overlay, while removing home development from the mix, lowers the Skyline property value. Vineyard land is valuable, too, he said.
The zoning overlay might keep away homes, but not necessarily a mining operation. County code says that surface mining under certain conditions is allowed in any zoning district.
Meanwhile, park advocates hope their worst fears are baseless.
“I am very concerned,” Glaros said.