• The Neelys have demonstrated over the course of the last 13 years that they will continue to ask for conditional use permits to expand their wine growing endeavor as long as the town of Portola Valley continues to approve all or part of these applications. Only when we repeatedly demonstrate that the town does not want a wine business with a tasting room and an events space in an area designated as open space will they get the message that they cannot hold themselves above the mission, goals and vision of the town as clearly expressed in the general plan.
The general plan does not support a commercial endeavor in our open space.
As a member of the General Plan Review Committee of 1995, I am sure that the Neely CUP application runs counter to the mission, goals and intent of the general plan formulated in 1995 and approved by the Town Council. The plan clear in its intent:
• To preserve and enhance the natural features and open space of the planning area because they are unusual and valuable assets for the planning area, the Peninsula and the entire Bay Area.
• To allow use of the planning area by residents and others but to limit that use so that the natural attributes of the planning area can be sustained over time.
• To conserve the rural quality of Portola Valley and maintain the town as an attractive, tranquil, family-oriented residential community for all generations compatible with the many physical constraints and natural features of the area.
Additionally, the general plan urges that commercial activities be restricted to the four existing commercial areas:
"Four local shopping and service centers are indicated on the plan diagram. These centers are all existing at the present time and have sufficient area to meet the needs of local residents when the planning area is fully developed. The four centers are Ladera Country Shopper, Nathhorst Triangle Area, Town Center, and Sharon Heights Shopping Center."
As well, the general plan insists that new businesses in Portola Valley should serve the existing population:
"The development of new commercial and office floor area should ... only be permitted when it is demonstrated that the proposed additional space and uses are needed, within the objectives of this plan, to serve the existing population ..."
Although the Neelys claim that 50% of their members are Portola Valley residents, we have no guarantee that their member base will remain at a 50/50 ratio.
In 2011, the Neelys asked to build a barn. The Planning Commission unanimously rejected the request; yet a year later it was approved. Now they want to turn that barn into a wine tasting and event space. Does anyone believe they did not have this expanded and non-agricultural use in mind when they built the barn?
In Conditional Use Permit X7D-151, which allows for additional acreage (5.5 acres) on which to grow grapes, item No. 5 states, "Customers may not come to the winery for tasting or purchasing of wine." What has changed in the last seven years that would induce the Planning Commission to permit wine tasting and purchasing when it was expressly forbidden in the last application?
The town must demonstrate to the Neelys that their persistence in repeatedly submitting applications for expansion of their wine operations will not work! Compromise with this family only leads to more applications down the line to be allowed to create and grow a business that is inconsistent with the town's goals.
The residents of Portola Valley want their elected and appointed officials to preserve the rural character of the town. This is especially true of the corridor that runs near the town center.
At the Planning Commission meeting I attended on Dec. 4, Lucy Neely nitpicked the general plan to try to demonstrate how her project could be approved. I urge the planning commissioners to stop looking at the details of this project and look at the bigger picture.
The Neelys want to run a commercial winery with many visits each day and several events a year. They have been pursuing this goal systematically since 2007. This project is not in a commercial area, it would disrupt the rural character of the town, there is no guarantee that half the members would be Portola Valley residents, and there is no doubt it will disrupt the tranquility of the town by increasing traffic.
Most of us want to support the dreams of young people. Lucy Neely is a lovely, articulate, and passionate young woman. She has worked tirelessly to entice the town into supporting her project. But no one person or one family in Portola Valley should be allowed to override the goals of the town as clearly expressed in the general plan.
I urge you to reject all aspects of their application for yet another conditional use permit. Unless we want a full-scale commercial venture in the middle of our open space, we must stop negotiating endlessly with this family.
Kathleen Bennett has lived in Portola Valley for 30 years and served on the General Plan Review Committee in 1994-5. She is the founder of The Girls' Middle School.
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