Here’s a scenario for the courts to ponder — a wildfire hits Mount Veeder near an expanded Anthem winery and a half-mile-long winery driveway must handle both evacuees and responding firefighters.
The Napa County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors ruled that the road plans are up to the challenge. Neighbor Jeff Atlas disagrees and is suing the county in Napa County Superior Court.
Napa County is granting an “unprecedented 16 exceptions” to its road-and-street standards so an existing residential driveway can serve the winery, the Atlas lawsuit said.
“I’m not opposed to wineries,” Atlas said on Tuesday. “I’m not against the wine business … I’m opposed to fire traps.”
The county concluded Anthem winery’s alternative designs for the driveway involving such features as turnouts provide the same practical effects as the standards. The exceptions won't endanger life, safety, and welfare, one report said.
“From our perspective, this lawsuit is frivolous and it’s going to be a very short litigation,” said Julie Arbuckle, who founded Anthem winery along with her husband Justin Arbuckle.
The court will consider what has become an even higher-profile Napa County issue in the wake of recent devastating wildfires — should all sites where wineries are permitted be allowed to have wineries?
Anthem winery is in the Mayacamas Mountains between Dry Creek Road and Redwood Road. It applied to the county in 2014 for an expansion that since then went through various versions.
The Arbuckles earlier this year secured permission from the county to build a 10,388-square-foot winery building and increase visitation from 260 annual guests to about 7,000.
The entrance to the winery is from 3454 Redwood Road. The Arbuckles won permission to instead use 3123 Dry Creek Road. They own a house with a long driveway from Dry Creek Road that can link to the winery site.
Atlas built his house in the hills near Dry Creek Road about 10 years ago. His property borders the long driveway.
“I understood there was a driveway next to my house,” Atlas said. “I didn’t know you can turn a private driveway into a commercial driveway.”
The Anthem winery expansion drew opposition from various neighbors calling themselves the Dry Creek Road Alliance. Objections ranged from fear of groundwater depletion to the level of winery visitation to the Dry Creek Road driveway.
The lawsuit focuses solely on the driveway issues. Atlas said having the winery use the Redwood Road entrance would be a solution.
But the Anthem winery team during county hearings disputed this suggestion. The family has an easement for a one-lane driveway coming off of Redwood Road and neighbors won’t allow it to be wider, they said.
“We’re left with a 9.8-foot easement and that’s just pretty small,” attorney Rob Anglin said on behalf of the winery.
The Anthem winery team said their plan to improve the Dry Creek Road driveway would improve fire safety. It would create an easily traveled connection between Redwood Road and Dry Creek Road that could be used during emergencies.
One point made by the Atlas lawsuit is that a proposed driveway bridge over a stream can be only 14 feet wide because of constraints. Fire regulations require a 20-foot width. In effect, the bridge would be one lane instead of the required two lanes.
The county can make exceptions if the bridge has turnouts at both ends with a continual sightline. In this case, a regulation-size turnout cannot be built on one end because of building constraints, the lawsuit said.
County officials during the Anthem winery hearings said two-way traffic can be accommodated at each end of the planned one-lane bridge. About 140 feet from the east end of the bridge, the driveway widens. That meets the intent of the standards, they said.
Anthem winery convinced a majority of the Board of Supervisors at the Jan. 26 appeals hearing that its plans are good ones.
Not every property will be able to have a winery, Board of Supervisors Chair Alfredo Pedroza said. He decided Anthem met the county's standards. After several years of vetting, the Arbuckles presented a reasonable, sustainable development application, he said.
One supervisor was unconvinced for a number of reasons, among them the Dry Creek Road driveway. Supervisor Diane Dillon said too much of the driveway is subject to road standard exceptions.
“When the exceptions are more than the rule, they cease to be exceptions and they become a rewrite of the rule,” Dillon said.
The lawsuit puts the matter in the hands of Napa County Superior Court.