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.