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Neely Wine's tasting room plans meet further resistance by residents

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there were more than a dozen people from the public speaking at the meeting, all in opposition to the project. There were in fact only eight speakers, some of whom opposed the project, and some who merely expressed their concerns about the proposal.

A plan to permit a tasting room and event center at Neely Wine in the middle of Portola Valley met with further caution from the town's Planning Commission on Nov. 6.

The proposal to alter a conditional use permit granted in 2013 to allow the Neely family to develop a wine tasting and event center on the winery grounds at 555 Portola Road was publicly introduced in December.

Since then, the winery has reduced the numbers of visitors and events that would be allowed in its proposal in order to mollify neighbors concerned about noise, parking and other urban impacts in a pristine rural area.

The Neely family has maintained that a profitable winery is essential to maintaining its 230-acre property stretching from Portola Road west to Skyline Boulevard as open space, and that the family might be forced to sell the property for housing development if a tasting room is not allowed.

Operators of a second major Portola Valley winery, Thomas Fogarty, have said that having a tasting room and a wine club that permits the winery to sell directly to the public is vital to the profitability of their enterprise.

Portola Valley Planning Director Laura Russell said that development of the site for housing is, indeed, a possibility.

"It would be possible to have housing there, although there are limitations because of proximity to the (San Andreas) Fault," Russell said.

The latest plan calls for a maximum of 18 events per year, including six promotional events that could include wine release parties with a limit of 120 visitors for the entire day, and 12 events for community or nonprofit groups, limited to 75 guests.

Wine tasting by reservation would be allowed for 24 hours a week between Friday and Sunday and daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., limited to 30 visitors per day.

The Nov. 6 meeting was designed to determine whether the proposed project conforms to certain elements of the town's general plan, but speakers at the meeting made it clear that they didn't want it under any circumstances.

Portola Valley resident Sandy Patterson called the project "a slippery slope into commercialization."

"The proposal contains a (false) promise of tranquility," Patterson said. "We need to continue to protect this oasis."

Another Portola Valley resident, Ward Paine, objected to "retail sales in the middle of open space," and dismissed the need to make a profit, saying that a boutique winery is more of a hobby than a business.

"If you want to make a small fortune in wine, start with a large fortune and buy wine," Paine said.

Planning commissioners were less emphatic than the speakers, while remaining skeptical.

"The noise generated by events would be too much to be consistent with an agricultural use," said Commission Vice Chair Judith Hasko. "Turning a whole field into parking spaces is not going to work."

Commission Chair Jon Goulden said that he doesn't "want to create a new commercial sector" in town.

"I'd be tempted to say the events don't fit into the context (of the general plan)," Goulden said. On the other hand, he said, 'I'd much rather have a vineyard than a housing development."

Commissioner Anne Kopf-Sill agreed with Goulden that an expanded winery use was better than single-family housing.

"The agriculture use fits with the general plan," she said. "It's better than getting developed into housing."

The Planning Commission will hold another meeting at an unconfirmed date to continue considering the issue of conformity with the general plan and zoning issues, Russell said.

Russell said the day after the meeting that she hadn't yet heard from the Neelys, but that she was assuming that they would continue to revise the proposal.

Lucy Neely, Neely Wine's sales and marketing director, did not return a call seeking comment.

Vines were planted at the property known as Spring Ridge Winery in 1980 before it was purchased by Kirk Neely, who is on the medical school staff at Stanford and at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, and his wife, Holly Myers, in 1995, according to the Neely Wine web site.

Spring Ridge received a conditional use permit in 2013 that allowed the Neelys to expand the grape-growing area from 13.5 to 19 acres.

A use permit granted in 2000 prohibited a tasting room and retail sales on the property, a stricture that remained unchanged when the 2013 use permit was granted, Russell said.


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7 people like this
Posted by X. Tortion
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 13, 2019 at 11:46 am

Sounds like a threat. Give us what we want or we will turn it all into a subdivided mess.
If you can't afford the large property you shouldn't have extended yourself in the first place.

9 people like this
Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 13, 2019 at 12:42 pm

It's not a threat, it's a clear assessment of what is likely to happen if the property changes hands.

It would be more productive to discuss the issue of a tasting room rather than simply expressing your emotional reaction and offering no useful commentary.

A well-executed tasting room would be a significant improvement to PV's and surrounding areas' cultural opportunities. It's location is ideal, serving as an adjunct to the already existing commercial area nearby. The existing of such an asset would make PV even more desirable as a place to live and thus would raise property values and improve the local economy, adding to the tax base.

By the way, note the Almanac is up to its usual tricks trying to spin the issue their way: the site is not "in the middle of Portola Valley". Look at a map, Rick. I know you don't live anywhere near here but at least try to me minimally educated about the area you are reporting on.

6 people like this
Posted by Leslie Kriese
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Nov 13, 2019 at 12:54 pm

I support approving the Neely's Permit and tasting room, within appropriate parameters for traffic, timing and noise. Maintaining the property in vineyards is in keeping with the Town's rural character and is far preferable to adding housing into the view corrider. In the future I hope I can enjoy the Neely's wine, along with Fogarty's, at my holiday table.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 13, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Why is awatkins continued bullying allowed on this site? Allowing crank, know-it-all Commentary contributes to the detriment of many a conversation here. Please ask him to state his opinions without the rhetoric. Thank you.

4 people like this
Posted by PVGal
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Nov 13, 2019 at 4:59 pm

I must be missing it. What rhetoric and bullying are you refering to in awatkins post? Thanks

7 people like this
Posted by Birdnscrap
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 13, 2019 at 6:59 pm

Birdnscrap is a registered user.

I am strongly against the noise, traffic congestion, development of parking, and intoxicated drivers that a tasting and event space would entail.

If the winery is not economically viable, why did the Neelys buy it in the first place, given the limitations of their conditional use permit? The threats of housing development sounds like blackmail if they don’t get their own way.

I think acquisition of the property for open space is a possible idea. Maybe a combination of local donations and POST would be able to acquire and preserve this amazing tract of land.

Susan Kritzik

4 people like this
Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 15, 2019 at 10:02 am

To those who accuse the Neely’s of making threats about their land being used for housing, did you happen to notice that all of the housing “threats” were made by members of the planning commission?

Like this comment
Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 15, 2019 at 10:08 am

Dear “Resident”:

(in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast.
the art or science of all specialized literary uses of language in prose or verse, including the figures of speech.
the study of the effective use of language.
the ability to use language effectively.
the art of prose in general as opposed to verse.
the art of making persuasive speeches; oratory.

Yes, we certainly don’t want to see any of those things, do we?

6 people like this
Posted by 100% against it
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 15, 2019 at 11:25 am

What a terrible idea. Let's create a Mother Ship that delivers drunk drivers into town regularly.

1 person likes this
Posted by We need housing
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 15, 2019 at 11:27 am

This area needs housing much more than it needs a bar, oh, I mean, tasting room.

1 person likes this
Posted by PV Neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:48 pm

I don't have a problem with a tasting room, and I don't think it will contribute more drunk drivers than we've always had, cruising home local restaurants.

I do have a problem with destructive development of what is supposed to be open land. I do think the Neelys were making a veiled threat about development, and they did acquire the property knowing they couldn't put in a commercial tasting room, but situations do change, and they know they have us over a barrel, so to speak. We are in the situation we are in. If we want to keep that space open and rural, we've got options of allowing the tasting room, or purchasing the land. What's it going to be? Me, I'd rather be a good neighbor to them, and give them the chance to be good neighbors to us, while providing delicious wine.

7 people like this
Posted by Napa Valley Raised
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 16, 2019 at 11:03 pm

I grew up in Napa and understand the concerns. However, one winery tasting room is not going to create a lot of noise, traffic or drunk drivers. One new restaurant creates much more of that. A winery brings appreciation of our local climate, culture, and community. It brings jobs for workers who don’t fit into the tech industry. It offers a place to gather and take in the beauty of our land. I’d love more of that in our area, not less. Create boundaries around the operating hours and events if noise is the fear.

10 people like this
Posted by PVres
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Nov 17, 2019 at 12:38 pm

I don't see how this could cause more traffic, congestion or noise than the new & improved Alpine Inn, which everyone seems to love.

7 people like this
Posted by PVGal
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Nov 17, 2019 at 1:08 pm

It will create far fewer trips into PV (traffic) then the Stanford housing planned for the Wedge, which the town is fast tracking and far fewer drunk drivers then Zotts, which was also done with the current Town Council's blessing (and which is a great addition to the town!).

If you are really concerned about traffic,think of all the homes jammed in the wedge very close to Zotts AND Arastrado Rd. That situation has far more potential for serious traffic, bicycle, pedistrianrosfnd it is being fast tracked. Neely's will only be open on a limited set of days for a limited amount of time meaning far fewer trips. If our Town Council wishes to be consistent in its behavior, then it should approve Neely's permit request.

18 people like this
Posted by Tfogarty
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 19, 2019 at 7:13 pm

I'm not sure it's in my family's interests to "stump for" the Neelys, and I do not really know them personally, but I am horrified at the way some in this town react to a family trying to create a sustainable small local business. No reasonable person would construe any of their (or the commissioners') comments as "threats". They are simply stating what they need in order to be a viable business and keep the land dedicated to agriculture. A winery of that size simply can not be profitable without a robust direct-to-consumer sales program, and they will need a Tasting Room in order to do that. Ask me how I know. Do people expect the Neelys to keep their vineyards at their own expense and not develop the land so that the rest of the town can have a pleasant and quaint "view corridor"? That sure doesn't sound reasonable. As for "traffic concerns", has anyone seen the Windy Hill Trailhead parking on the weekend? Truly, adding a small Tasting Room is "tossing a pebble into the Grand Canyon". Finally, for those who don't know, winery Tasting Rooms are subject to constant ABC scrutiny (much more than restaurants), and we are required by our insurance companies to recurrently train our attendees using an accredited "TiPS Course". Winery owners and managers are terrified of "over-serving" guests and we simply do not do it, ever. It's truly disheartening to see any opposition to this small family business that could only add an interesting element to our increasingly homogeneous corner of global "ground zero" for tech and finance.

8 people like this
Posted by Tfogarty
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 20, 2019 at 8:07 am

And I missed "X. Tortion"'s comment where they not-so-subtly assert that only the ultra-wealthy with loads of disposable income have any business owning land. That's got to be a new level of elitist myopia. Very nice.

Like this comment
Posted by TKN
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:30 am

Ridge Vineyards has a much larger operation than this up Monte Bello Road in the middle of open space, and we all know what a stain on our community Ridge is. (sarcasm, in case you didn't get it: Ridge is a treasure of the Bay Area, if not all of California). History has shown that the vineyards the Neelys own have the ability to produce extremely good wine, so the comparison to Ridge is meant seriously. Although serious wine fans were sad to see the Varner brothers leave as winemakers, I'm sure I'm not the only one rooting for them to find their groove again.

4 people like this
Posted by les marks
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 21, 2020 at 2:47 pm

The billboards say "Tipsy driving is drunk driving"....
I think the original application forbid a tasting room because of fears of how it would change the heart of the community. It is a stones throw to the Town Center. I do not think we have to compare drinking facilities in order to be able to say that we do not want another one. Drinking is drinking. Defining drinking as culture....hmmm? Do we really need to attract more people to the town to drink? The Neelys did buy the property knowing that it did not have the approval for a tasting room. It is important to know that they now produce 1000 bottles and plan to triple that output. Can it really remain that small a facility?
If they sell the property they sell it. Then the town takes the next step. It is a beautiful place to live, my guess is the Neelys do not want to move as their children also live there or near by. That is my 2cents.

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