Napa County Wineries, Environmentalists Clash Over Proposed Land-Use Rules

With the wine grape glut, slowing sales, millenials preferring other spirits, can we afford to destroy the environment for more wine grapes?

“The valley floor is largely planted out,” said Jim Wilson, a member of an activist group called Napa Climate Now. “A lot of times, a forest is on the land that they want to develop and removing that forest is just a matter of getting down to business.”

Napa County Wineries, Environmentalists Clash Over Proposed Land-Use Rules

(KPIX 5) — A land-use fight is brewing in Napa County pitting environmental activists on one side and winery owners on the other.

The county is considering new environmental rules that opponents say could make some properties impossible to build on. If approved, they would apply to every property of an acre or more in unincorporated parts of Napa County.

Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting was packed with people concerned about the proposed county ordinance to increase protection of trees and watershed throughout the county. Climate protection activists say it’s needed because winemakers are now expanding up into the hills and removing native trees to do it.

“The valley floor is largely planted out,” said Jim Wilson, a member of an activist group called Napa Climate Now. “A lot of times, a forest is on the land that they want to develop and removing that forest is just a matter of getting down to business.”

Land being cleared for vineyards.

The ordinance would ban private property development on any land with a slope of more than 30 degrees. It would also prohibit development within 35 to 65 feet of creeks and require keeping 70 percent of trees on a parcel. If property owners do remove trees, they would have to set aside three times the area of those trees’ canopy as undeveloped, open space.

A local realtor says these rules, taken collectively, would have a profound impact on homeowners.

“It would drastically affect homeowners’ property values and their ability to build on any parcel an acre or more,” said realtor Kimberly Kinsel, “and would make many parcels, hundreds if not thousands, potentially unbuildable.”

“That’s the impact,” said Harvest Duhig, owner of Duhig Wines, “That people will not be able to have country lives in this community.”

Her small winery sits on 14 acres in Coombsville, southeast of Napa. She says Napa County already embraces conservation but says the new ordinance is being pushed by people who resent any expansion by the wine industry.

“Our conservation regulations, as they are today, are designed for conservation,” she said. “This particular ordinance is designed to stop growth of any kind.”

Last June, a voter initiative, requiring similar measures, was only narrowly defeated and opponents of the ordinance believe Supervisors are responding to political pressure from those fighting further development.

If the planning commissioners recommend any changes to the ordinance they would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. But it was the board who sent it to them in the first place.

Opponents say the county has fast-tracked the ordinance and supervisors may vote on it in March. It could go into effect as soon as April and anyone with development plans not yet approved would be subject to the new rules.

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