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wine industry

Supervisors will hold a winery growth follow-up

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The Napa County Board of Supervisors will hold a session on Jan. 5 that could be called “Wine Country’s Future- the Sequel.”

Certainly the initial installment on Tuesday proved to be a bureaucratic blockbuster. Dozens of people couldn’t fit into the packed chamber and 73 people addressed the Board of Supervisors during a six-hour marathon session. Television crews made a rare appearance.

Supervisors provided the climax when they held their discussion from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. They addressed 14 recommendations from the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee and Planning Commission (APAC) that were eight months in the making.

But, as it grew dark outside, supervisors were unable to tie everything up in one, neat package. Many of the people who had come to protest possible, further winery regulations had departed by then, their green “Support Napa County Ag” signs left behind on empty seats.

Wine country didn’t change in a day. None of the APAC recommendations are law, at least not yet.

“With all of these, we’re going to be talking about the pros and cons again when they come back,” board Chairwoman Diane Dillon said.

Underlying tensions remain. Some people fear Napa might become a wine country on steroids dominated by tourist-oriented event centers that overshadow agriculture. Others fear too much red tape will strangle a wine industry that keeps subdivisions at bay.

APAC tried to provide answers. The board appointed 17 representatives from the wine, farming and business sectors, the cities and environmental and neighborhood groups to meet over the summer and recommend changes to winery regulations.

The Board of Supervisors addressed most of the recommendations in broad-brushed fashion. But the only vote it took was to continue the matter on Jan. 5. It couldn’t fit the item in at next Tuesday’s meeting, so it chose the first meeting of 2016 to be a momentum-sustainer.

“Just to continue the conversation, because I think if it goes too long, we’ll have to start over again,” Dillon said as the session wound down. “There’s no one here who wants to do that.”

Supervisors liked the APAC proposals of a fast-track for proposed, small wineries, some form of self-certification reports attesting that wineries are following the rules and new limits to how much of a parcel could be paved over for a new winery. They directed staff to do more work on these ideas.

Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said that planning staff on Jan. 5 will provide information on what happens next.

One APAC recommendation called Proposal X involves creating a chart with guidelines for new wineries. The chart would show the production capacity, maximum development area, maximum hospitality area and other factors for wineries on various-sized parcels, though the details must still be worked out.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said the Proposal X approach is too rigid.

“As we go into the future, I think flexibility will be more valuable than too much structure,” Pedroza said.

Another thought was a Proposal X chart could help a county Planning Commission that has agonized over most winery proposals in recent years, sometimes taking multiple meetings to reach a decision. A chart could also help winery applicants know what to expect.

“If the Planning Commission can’t do its job, we’re going to be continuing in the same rut were in,” Dillon said “We need to create guidelines for them, benchmarks if you will. We have to help them do their jobs. These are volunteers who come in two times a month – it’s sort of like perpetual APAC meetings. They’ve asked for that help.”

Morrison said planning staff will revamp Proposal X to focus on environmental and site constraints. Supervisors stressed the chart would be only a guideline, not a limitation on winery proposals.

One major, outstanding issue is whether to include lawns, picnic areas and a certain type of wine cave with fire sprinklers in calculations for accessory uses at new wineries. County law limits accessory uses such as marketing areas to 40 percent of the wine production area.

“This is a very central recommendation and actually has many additional policy implications,” APAC Chairman Ted Hall told supervisors. “We chose to rely on this particular instrument because we thought it was more efficient than a number of other policies we could have recommended.”

Such complexities proved too much for supervisors to take on at 5:30 p.m. after a long day. They ended the discussion with loose ends remaining.

Supervisors will save it for the sequel.

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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.

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