Guest opinion: Why I oppose the Neely wine tasting room plan | February 12, 2020 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Viewpoint - February 12, 2020

Guest opinion: Why I oppose the Neely wine tasting room plan

by Kathleen Bennett

I am writing to express my opposition to the Spring Ridge Conditional Use permit application by the Neely family for expanded use of their property. I oppose the Neely application for two reasons:

• The general plan does not support the Neely endeavor.

• 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.

Comments

56 people like this
Posted by Respect
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:21 am

Even though more than fifty Town residents have written and/or spoken in thoughtful, even respectful opposition to this plan, the Neely game plan seem to just wear everyone down by endless nitpicking to find some legal language loophole in the Town's general plan.

The property is not zoned for such a retail business open every day to the general public -- period.

There may be a place somewhere in Town for such a business, but this meadow area is definitely not it.

That is what everyone agreed to when the 2013 conditional use permit was granted -- the meadow was allowed to be altered from a hayfield into a vineyard ONLY if the owners agreed to NOT turn the nearby barn building into a wine tasting and public retail space.


12 people like this
Posted by Lucy Neely
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 3:16 pm

Hey there. Lucy Neely chiming in here. First in response to the previous/above comment. Thank you for your opinion and for engaging in this conversation. I appreciate. And, I know it can difficult to be fully informed on a subject before speaking to it publicly, so I'll help you out:

You say ' The property is not zoned for such a retail business.' Actually, it is. Portola Valley Municipal Code Chapter 18.12.030 says that a Conditional Use permitted for the RE Zoning District is:

J. Wineries which include all or any combination of the following:
1. Growing of grapes;
2. Importation of grapes for the purpose of establishing and sustaining a winery operated for the purpose of producing wine from grapes grown on the premises;
3. Making of wine;
4. Wholesale and retail trade of wine produced exclusively on the premises;
5. Winery buildings and related structures.

So, there you have it. The property actually is zoned for wholesale and retail trade of wine as well as winery buildings and related structures. That's why we are going through the appropriate process of applying for a Conditional Use Permit.

If anyone has any questions or comments about our proposal, you are welcome to reach out to me at lucy [at] neelywine.com and I'm happy to be in conversation. Thank you.

Best wishes,
Lucy Neely


9 people like this
Posted by Lucy Neely
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Hey there. Lucy Neely chiming in again, this time in response to Kathleen Bennet's Guest Opinion piece. I won't try and respond to all of it (my to-do list won't afford it) but here's a few points:

1) Thank you, Kathleen for your engagement in this conversation. You're contributing to a robust and dynamic conversation that challenges and motivates my family to craft a responsive proposal that will best serve the community. Thank you!

2) The Portola Valley General Plan is a guiding document that is interpretable. In conversation with appointed and elected officials who are charged with interpreting that document (the Planning Commission and Town Council), I've come to understand that the General Plan is/was designed that way - the GP offers guidance, and it is the responsibility of the PC and TC (mostly) to interpret the document responsibly, intelligently, and with foresight. So, that's the process we're engaged in.

3) You describe that I 'nitpick' the General Plan. I'd like to offer another perspective: I've taken the time to read the Portola Valley General Plan multiple times so that I can make relevant points and refer to relevant language in the document. If you would like to meet with me sometime to discuss this wonderful guiding document that we seem to both appreciate and feel passionately about it, I welcome that. We could go for a walk on a trail in town while we discuss. Email me?

4) And lastly, a question: do you believe the Windy Hill Open Space preserve and it's attendant traffic and visitors 'disrupt the rural character of the town'?

warmly and respectfully,
Lucy Neely


35 people like this
Posted by Respect
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:39 pm


I appreciate your citing municipal code chapter 18.12.030 regarding a conditional use permit for the RE zoning district.

However, nothing in the code you referenced (the five items you listed) includes permitting a retail wine tasting and event space business.


46 people like this
Posted by surprise!
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 10:44 pm

I am in complete support of Kathleen Bennetts analysis and I do not know ms Bennett. I believe when the winery was first approved the town, in its documents, clearly stated that there would be NO WINE TASTING ROOM. The Neely's have systematically inched their way right through this requirement and anything that they promise now will be up for a new CUP once they get their tasting room open. The room will be a permanent addition to the town. For better? or worse it will be permanent: more events, more visitors, more disruption to the serenity of the town and no ability to get rid of it. Yes, the open space is right there, but the Neelys do not need to add to the congestion with intoxicated drivers. They say it will be a minimal addition. They will ask for more in the future. Or a future owner will ask for more. The view is beautiful from both sides of the land to either side of the Neelys--open space and the Town Center-- they offer nothing more than drinking. And a party for the town (another promotional event!) that no one has asked for!
It has been proven by all of their previous actions that they will say one thing and then go for what they want. If the other wineries are so friendly and committed to supporting the Neelys, and the Neelys to them, then might it be nice to have a consortium where all of the local wine makers can promote their wines together? They could pull in Woodside wineries where I understand that NO tasting rooms are allowed by the city--yet surprisingly wine is still grown! Rent a space in a commercial zone away from the town center and have a tasting room. Wine bars have become quite popular in Palo Alto and elsewhere.
Common sense should prevail! If the Neelys cannot afford to keep up the property without a wine tasting room (one of their claims) then perhaps they have made a terrible mistake. The Staff and Planning Commissioners should top talking about cars and noise and access and start thinking about drinking and future requests for wine tasting rooms in the Valley, and what a violation of the bucolic, residential quality of our town this room would be.


18 people like this
Posted by respect
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 15, 2020 at 8:30 am

To help clarify the issues regarding the Neely's proposed retail wine tasting and events space, I have listed the four points made by Lucy Neely -- followed by CLARIFICATIONS:

1) Thank you, Kathleen for your engagement in this conversation. You're contributing to a robust and dynamic conversation that challenges and motivates my family to craft a responsive proposal that will best serve the community. Thank you!"

CLARIFICATION: Not sure how you can “craft” a proposal when Kathleen Bennett is urging the commission to reject all aspects of the Neely application. Actually, the best way to "serve the community" may be to ask the "community" if it wants a retail wine tasting and events space at this location. Would the Neely's support a Town-wide survey?

2) The Portola Valley General Plan is a guiding document that is interpretable. In conversation with appointed and elected officials who are charged with interpreting that document (the Planning Commission and Town Council), I've come to understand that the General Plan is/was designed that way - the GP offers guidance, and it is the responsibility of the PC and TC (mostly) to interpret the document responsibly, intelligently, and with foresight. So, that's the process we're engaged in.

CLARIFICATION: If the General Plan is so “interpretable" why don’t we just put the Neely application up for a Town vote? Seems a reasonable way to deflate all of the contentiousness regarding process and bias. Would the Neely’s support such a vote?

3) You describe that I 'nitpick' the General Plan. I'd like to offer another perspective: I've taken the time to read the Portola Valley General Plan multiple times so that I can make relevant points and refer to relevant language in the document. If you would like to meet with me sometime to discuss this wonderful guiding document that we seem to both appreciate and feel passionately about it, I welcome that. We could go for a walk on a trail in town while we discuss. Email me?

CLARIFICATION I’m sure a walk would be healthy, but why not just start with responding to each of the specific and documented points made in Kathleen Bennett's letter?

4) And lastly, a question: do you believe the Windy Hill Open Space preserve and it's attendant traffic and visitors 'disrupt the rural character of the town’?

CLARIFICATION Your question has already been answered by another reader who commented:

"Windy Hill is a public gift to us all -- a not-for-profit and totally free experience in one of the most spectacular sites in the Bay Area. Because of its valued place in our community, all of us are more than willing to offer our help and support in resolving issues of traffic and safety."

"There is certainly no such obligation for residents to accept traffic and safety issues when they are being created for the benefit of a single for-profit land owner. “


4 people like this
Posted by Sherry
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm

As a recent resident of Portola Valley, I am grateful to Kathleen Bennett for laying out the Neely family's history of applying for conditional use permits to expand their wine business. Kathleen Bennett clearly describes the General
Plan and points out that commercial activities be restricted to four existing shopping centers. A commercial wine operation does not belong in open space

Thanks, Kathleen. I hope Town leaders read your letter.


7 people like this
Posted by Appreciative
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 19, 2020 at 10:07 pm

I want to express my appreciation to Kathleen Bennett for relating her first-hand experience with Portola Valley's General Plan -- and for explaining why the Neely application runs counter to the "mission, goals and intent" of that Plan.

In response, the Neely's have characterized the General Plan as a vague and ambiguous document. According to the Neely's, the General Plan could actually be interpreted to support a wine tasting and events space right next to Windy Hill.

If the General Plan is so vague and wildly "interpretable", it would mean open-season for all kind of misplaced commercial developments in Town.


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