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Napa County Postpones Decision in Bremer Winery Case

by Kerana Todorov
September 20, 2019
Bremer Family Winery seeks county approval for structures built too close to a creek on its property off Deer Park Road east of St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Napa County.

A Napa Valley winery’s efforts to run a compliant facility in the eyes of Napa County have been delayed for at least another month.

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 3-2 to postpone until Oct. 16 a decision on the fate of a number of structures built too close to a creek that runs through the Bremer Family Winery property off Deer Park Road east of St. Helena. The winery proposed to mitigate the issue by planting trees on another stretch of the creek.

Owners John and Laura Bremer in February settled a lawsuit against Napa County over a series of alleged violations. The Bremers, who purchased the established winery in 2002, agreed to pay Napa County $271,464 for legal costs and other fees. The Bremers also agreed to limit the number of visitors to the winery under their 1979 use permit and seek building permits for unpermitted structures.

On Wednesday, representatives for the Bremers sought an exemption to county conservation rules for a number of structures, including three pedestrian bridges and retention walls illegally constructed within the 45- to 65-foot stream setback. The application was forwarded as part of the settlement agreement.

Other structures located too close to the creek include a winery pad, an agricultural storage building, a carport, landscaping and a paved roadway, according to a staff report. Napa County apparently allowed two additions to a farmhouse and the construction of a bathroom within the stream setback.

Two consultants for the winery, Brian Mayerle, senior biologist at FirstCarbon Solutions in Rocklin, and Phill Blake, agricultural and natural resources advisor for RSA+ in Napa, said the structures built within the stream corridor on the winery property had no effect on the creek. Removing them would create instability, Blake said.

Residents asked the Planning Commission to request for a continuance, citing the need for more information and the winery’s history. They also wanted the extra time to obtain written transcripts of court proceedings that resulted in the February settlement.

The commissioners who voted to continue the hearing until Oct. 16 said they wanted more information to make a better decision.

Commissioner Jeri Hansen asked staff to list which of the violations the Planning Commission needs to address to bring clarity for the record and the community.

Some of the structures constructed within the creek setbacks were put in place before the county conservation rules took effect in 1991 are off the table, for instance. Other items have building permits.

“I’m in no way interested in flying in the face of the settlement agreement or making that more difficult,” Hansen said. “What I’m trying to do or hoping to do is make sure that we’re aligning and dovetailing into that settlement agreement in the most appropriate places possible and helping get to that settlement.”

Also voting to continue the matter were Planning Commission Chairwoman Joelle Gallagher and Planning Commission Anne Cottrell.

Two commissioners, Andrew Mazotti and Dave Whitmer, voted against the motion. “To remove the issues that have impacted the stream setback areas would create more environmental harm than leaving them in place,” Whitmer said. “There isn’t any other alternative that I can see.”

Attorney David Gilbreth, who represented the Bremers before the Planning Commission, said he and his team will work with the staff and the Planning Commission. However, he predicted before the vote the commission would have the same information it had Wednesday.

Charlene Gallina, supervising planner, said staff will obtain a status update on all the building permits issued under the settlement from code enforcement personnel.

Napa County officials had issued their first notice of violation over against the winery in August 2005.

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