Napa County will give Rombauer Vineyards and its neighbors a chance to solve concerns over proposed winery changes before stepping in itself, with amplified music high on the list.
The winery came to the county Planning Commission on Wednesday with various requests. Commissioners noted that some neighbors felt confused by the project notification and said that perhaps the neighbors and the winery might still work out their differences.
“I too am concerned about the sense I have that the neighbors didn’t feel they had adequate opportunity here,” Commission chairperson Dave Whitmer said.
The commission will take up the matter again on Sept. 16.
Rombauer Vineyards is located at 3522 Silverado Trail near St. Helena. Founded by the late Koerner and Joan Rombauer, it was approved by the county in 1982.
A major issue raised during Wednesday’s hearing involved amplified sound. The winery wants speakers on the deck near the tasting room. More controversially, it also asked to have live bands with outdoor, amplified music at five events annually.
“It is the amplified music that is challenging to me,” Commissioner Anne Cottrell said.
Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said the Planning Commission must think about such things as precedent.
“I am not excited about amplified music,” she said. “I think we’ve made that pretty clear over the years, that that is not something we are really in favor of.”
Commissioner Andrew Mazotti said he’d be inclined to let the winery have at least some band events with restrictions.
Lynn Sletto on behalf of Rombauer Vineyards told commissioners that granting the amplified music “wouldn’t result in a slippery slope.” The winery is on top of a knoll surrounded by mature trees and 900 feet from the nearest non-Rombauer home.
A noise study said the noise would be within county standards. Given all of this, Rombauer has unique circumstances that would make it difficult for others to claim the commission had set a precedent, Sletto said.
Several neighbors said they’ve already heard amplified sounds from Rombauer winery. John Watanabe lives across Silverado Trail from Rombauer Vineyards and had concerns.
“Currently, Rombauer winery holds periodic marketing events that include live music that end about 4 p.m.,” he wrote to the commission. “Because the winery is on a hill and our home on a slope above, we can hear clearly the music as well as voices during these events.”
He asked that the commission not allow amplified music past 7 p.m. to avoid interfering with quality of life and sleep.
“I have heard loud music from Rombauer many times and it’s always an imposition,” neighbor Cherry Cotter wrote to the commission.
Several residents questioned whether the one-page notice from the county on the project gave them enough information and enough time to seek out more information.
Speaking by phone at the meeting during the public comment period, Cotter called the notification to neighbors “extremely confusing.”
County notices give the location, zoning and descriptions of proposed projects. They refer people to the county website to find out details.
“It requires the public to do a little homework, to go to the webpage and look at all the information,” county Supervising Planner Charlene Gallina said. “If they want additional information, they need to call in and talk to the staff planner who is preparing the project.”
The winery is participating in the county’s voluntary code compliance program to correct use permit violations. It is approved to have 34 full-time and part-time employees, has 70 and asked to have 81. It is approved to have 74 parking spaces, has 79 and wants the extra five to remain.
Rombauer Vineyards also asked for other changes. It wants to increase its marketing event guests from 3,300 to 4,710 annually, though events would remain at 55 and daily visitation would remain capped at 400 guests. It asked to have a picnic area.
Rombauer Vineyards last October had an easier time before the Planning Commission. It quickly won a big wine production increase, not for its Upvalley winery under discussion last Wednesday, but at the warehouse it has in the south county airport industrial area.
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