Whitehall Lane Winery and its neighbors couldn’t resolve a dispute about the winery’s proposed, outdoor evening events, so the Napa County Planning Commission settled the matter.
The winery near St. Helena could already hold 60 events annually not to exceed seven events monthly until 6 p.m. outdoors and 11 p.m. indoors. Owners asked to extend outdoor hours until 10 p.m. and, after pushback by neighbors, revised their request to 8 p.m.
“My goals here are to run a competitive business going forward and, most importantly, to keep it in the family,” Katie Leonardini of Whitehall Lane Winery told commissioners on Wednesday.
She painted the picture of guests watching the sun set behind the Mayacamas Mountains while sitting near the vineyards of the agricultural preserve sipping wine. If family-owned wineries are forced to sell, the wine region will be controlled by large companies, she said.
“Is that in the best interests of our neighbors, our children and the Napa Valley as a whole? I really don’t think it is,” Leonardini said.
But neighbor John Williams, who owns Frog’s Leap winery near Rutherford, didn’t want outdoor parties with up to 80 guests going on until 8 p.m. near his house weekend after weekend.
“Use common sense,” he told commissioners. “This is a profoundly quiet rural neighborhood.”
Other neighbors have expressed concern about noise and lighting they believe will come with the later events. The commission decided to try to split the difference in the dispute.
The commission ruled Whitehall Lane Winery can have four outdoor events a month until 8 p.m. and three outdoor events a month until 6 p.m., at which point the events must break up or move indoors. Neighbors within 1,000 feet must get 14 days’ notice of late events.
The commission also allowed Whitehall Lane Winery to demolish a barn, build a new barn for hospitality and storage and renovate a garden.
But a question came up that that commissioners couldn’t resolve. Williams said Whitehall Lane Winery has bit-by-bit increased activities over the years, with the small requests adding up to something larger.
“Intended or not, this is how you do it,” Williams said. “Each time you modify, you ask for a little bit more. Then you wait a few years and ask for a little bit more.”
Commissioner Anne Cottrell also expressed concern about what Williams called “creeping intensification,” but saw no easy answers. Businesses grow in incremental levels and she doesn’t want to undermine the ability for applicants to come in, she said.
There is merit to the idea that incremental land use is happening, Commission chairperson Dave Whitmer said. But, he said, he doesn’t want to stop family businesses from changing business plans and growing.
Whitehall Lane Winery is located at 1563 St. Helena Highway at the intersection with Whitehall Lane. The winery’s request for changes was slated to go to the Napa County Zoning Administrator, but was bumped up to Planning Commission level because of the controversy over extending the curfew until later in the evening.
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