Staglin Family Vineyard asked to quadruple visitation, a group of rural neighbors pleaded for far less and the Napa County Planning Commission came up with a number somewhere in-between.
Whether commissioners satisfied anyone with their Wednesday decision remains to be seen. Neither the attorneys representing the Staglins nor the neighborhood group could be reached afterward for comment.
Once again, the issue involved a winery along a narrow, rural, dead-end road that also has homes, in this case, Bella Oaks Lane.
Garen Staglin during the meeting talked about why his Napa Valley winery near Rutherford needs more visitors. He talked of the Staglins’ commitment to the environment, to making estate wine, to the community, to keeping the winery within the family for future generations.
“In order for us to be able to honor all those commitments, however, we have to be able to sell wine,” Staglin said. “It doesn’t sell itself.”
His daughter, winery president Shannon Staglin also emphasized that point.
“The connection to the client in-person is so important to the foundation and success of our family business,” she said.
But a couple dozen neighbors under the name Rutherford Bench Alliance said the Staglins want too many visitors. Scott Dalecio said that would result in a “full-blown event center at the end of a country lane.”
Resident Helen Berggruen said Bella Oaks Lane is a unique, rural, quiet agricultural road. She doesn’t want to see the extra traffic that she thinks would result from the Staglins’ request.
“Suddenly, our quiet country lane will feel like a big city,” she said.
Several neighbors expressed concern about wildfires. They asked how the rural neighborhood would evacuate if the Staglins happened to be holding a large marketing event and fire trucks were moving up the narrow road.
The Staglins initially asked to increase weekly tasting room visitation from about 50 to 308. They then revised this to 308 visitors a week from May through November and 154 visitors a week the rest of the year.
But the Rutherford Bench Alliance wanted something closer to 140 weekly tasting room visitors year-round.
The Planning Commission decided Wednesday that the winery can have up to 210 tasting room visitors a week from May through November and 154 a week the rest of the year.
Proposed annual marketing events also proved contentious. The commission settled on 20 events with 12 people, five with 32, four with 50, one with 100 and one with 250.
The commission also required such things as an evacuation plan and a two-year review of neighborhood impacts.
“Due to this location, it’s very tricky,” Commissioner Megan Dameron said.
Commission Chair Andrew Mazotti didn’t find the location quite as challenging. He and Commissioner Dave Whitmer favored higher visitor numbers, though not as high as the Staglins requested.
“This location, while rural, is not too far from civilization,” Mazotti said. “I probably don’t see it as being as remote as my fellow commissioners.”
As they shaved the Staglin request down, commissioners at one point asked for input from the applicant.
“We’re not in agreement, obviously, but the decision is not ours,” attorney Rob Anglin said on behalf of the Staglins.
Commissioner Anne Cottrell framed the issue facing the commission.
“This project at issue today is close to home for many people. … Emotions can be high here and it’s because our homes are important to us,” she said.
It’s also important to remember that the winery is in the agricultural preserve. Napa County has a shared understanding that agriculture includes wineries and marketing and is the highest and best use of the land, she said.
Visitation numbers are proxies for the actual impacts the neighborhood will feel from the project, Cottrell said.
“In my view, our goal today is to aim to balance (the Staglins’) goals with marketing and visitation with the neighborhood goals of mitigating the impacts,” she said.
The commission took two meetings to come to a decision. It first heard the Staglin’s request during a two-hour session on Feb. 3 and wrapped it up with Wednesday’s three-hour session.
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