Almanac

News - November 27, 2013

Portola Valley: Vineyard gets green light; five-year quest may end

by Dave Boyce

On a 3-2 vote, the Portola Valley Planning Commission granted an application from residents Dr. Kirk Neely and Holly Myers to grow grapes in a field they own at 555 Portola Road in Portola Valley. If no one appeals the Nov. 20 decision to the Town Council, it ends the couple's five-year quest to amend their use permit to allow a vineyard of not more than 5.5 acres in a relatively secluded section of this 17-acre field.

Why a proposed use for private property required five years of meetings is testament to the field's high community status as a "meadow preserve," as the town's general plan calls it. The field is planted in grasses and currently indistinguishable from seven adjoining acres of open space owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. When viewed from Portola Road, it appears to be an extension of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve that rises spectacularly behind it.

The general plan calls the field "visually important to the entire quality of the valley. This preserve should be kept in a natural condition and the existing agricultural character preserved." The meaning of that passage has been central to the controversy as to what can and cannot be done there.

Now there are answers. As to what cannot be done: The boundary with the open-space district is to be unmarked by fences or lines of vegetation, said Commissioner Nate McKitterick in an interview. Furthermore, the most visible acres adjacent to that border must be kept in hay or grass.

As to what can be done: small-scale farming of fruits and vegetables in areas not so easily visible from Portola Road. Fences to protect the crops and a barn-like storage building to store hay are also allowed.

In keeping with their long-held opposition to the vineyard, Commissioners Denise Gilbert and Alexandra Von Feldt dissented from the majority opinion of Arthur "Chip" McIntosh, Nicholas Targ and Mr. McKitterick.

"I interpret general plan language literally," Ms. Gilbert told the Almanac. "Any dictionary you look in, meadows are grass fields and hay."

Mr. McKitterick and Mr. Targ communicated by email.

"Reasonable minds could and did differ on appropriate action," Mr. McKitterick wrote. "My vote was guided by staff's interpretation of the general plan and the limitations the application places on the activities in the meadow."

"The town's decision-making process has been rigorous," said Mr. Targ. "The result is a well defined, ecologically sensitive project that preserves the lands' natural and agricultural character."

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