Transforming a rural Napa Valley property with such features as warehouses and a former PG&E equipment yard into a hoped-for wine country gem is proving difficult.
The proposed Flynnville winery south of Calistoga has drastically changed since a 2013 version that one critic called an “industrialization of the ag preserve.” No longer is it to be a complex of 14 mini-wineries totaling 82,000 square feet producing 300,000 gallons annually.
A new proposal calls for two buildings totaling 24,210 square feet producing 60,000 gallons annually. Proposed visitation drops from 500 people daily to 25 people daily. Parking spaces drop from 100 to 17.
That’s closer to what the Napa County Planning Commission wants, but not close enough. The Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to postpone the matter until April 5 to allow the applicant to make further refinements.
“My sense is we need to get it right,” Commissioner Terry Scott said. “There’s no rush to judgment on my part or any of my fellow commissioners. We want to make sure it’s appropriate for the site.”
The commission advised Flynnville Wine Co. applicant PD Properties, LLC to look at a smaller-scale winery. It urged the applicant to work more with the neighbors.
“I admit disappointment, in as much as this project has been downsized,” consultant Jeffrey Redding said on behalf of the applicant. “We’ve met the neighbors three times.”
That said, he was ready to try to comply with the commission’s wishes.
The site is at 1184 Maple Lane but borders Highway 29, making it visible from a road that amounts to the main drag of the Napa Valley. It consists of six parcels to be merged to form a 10-acre parcel, the minimum needed for a new winery.
Industrial and commercial uses on the property date to the early 1960s, before Napa County’s present-day agricultural protection laws. Today, the site contains 10 buildings and a carport, with five of the structures to be demolished to make room for the winery.
Several neighbors expressed concern to the county about the proposed winery. Owners of nearby Heitz Bros. Vineyards are worried that groundwater use for a 60,000-gallon Flynnville winery could diminish the Heitz water supply.
“This project is just too large for the amount of acreage and for the location in general,” Mark, Clifford, Sheldon and Walter Heitz wrote. “This project is much more suited to a large industrial park or another non-rural area. It is not suitable for a rural area with homes and small vineyards.”
A 30,000-gallon-a-year winery would be a better fit, they wrote.
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Joan Zoloth, who lives next to the Flynnville property, said the county should require an environmental impact report to address lighting, noise, traffic and other issues. She asked that neighbors be able to approve the project.
“This is a very unique area,” she said. “I think this development is too aggressive and does not conform to the ag preserve of the general plan.”
Flynnville winery asked for three exceptions to county road setback rules for new wineries. These type of exceptions – called variances – have often proven controversial, with critics saying they are sometimes used to shoehorn wineries onto unsuitable properties.
County staff recommended allowing winery buildings to be built 450 feet from Highway 29, despite a required 600-foot setback. It recommended allowing new buildings a couple hundred feet from Ida and Maple lanes, despite a required 300-foot setback.
Meeting the setbacks would allow for only 11,475 feet of development on the site, a county report said. That would deprive the property owners of the right to use their property for a conforming agricultural use, it said.
Commissioners signaled they are willing to consider the variance requests. Commissioner Anne Cottrell said she’s more concerned about development intensity.
“This site requires variances for virtually anything,” Scott said.
Scott said the industrial and commercial development presently on the site isn’t very desirable. Some of the structures are vacant and dilapidated, he said.
But he’d be concerned about approving 60,000-gallon wineries for every 10-acre site in Napa, Scott said. He also wondered when Napa County will no longer be able to meet the rule requiring new wine production to use 75 percent Napa County grapes.
All of these are questions for another day.
“I hesitate to kick a can down the road,” Commission chairwoman Jeri Gill said. “But I think this can may not be ready today.”
The Flynnville application marked the first hearing for newly appointed Planning Commissioner Joelle Gallagher. Redding joked that she had a “softball” request for her debut.