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Napa County Planning Commission to Re-review Legality of Structures at Bremer Family Winery

by Kerana Todorov
March 23, 2020
The Napa County Planning Commission will once again review the legality of this footbridge and other structures at the Bremer Family Winery. Photo courtesy of Napa County.   

 

A Deer Park winery above the Napa Valley floor faces another public hearing before the Planning Commission to determine the fate of a barn, tank pad and other structures built too close to a creek years ago.

On March 17, the Napa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ask the Napa County Planning Commission to re-review the legality of the structures constructed at Bremer Family Winery over the years.

The supervisors heard an appeal of the commission’s split decision in October to grant exception to the county’s conservation regulations and legalize a storage barn, a concrete pad, an addition to the residence, a bathroom and two pedestrian footbridges constructed over the creek. The addition and the bathroom were built with permits, but county officials said in public hearings that these were issued in error.

Resident Michael Hackett of Angwin, on Nov.12 appealed the planning commission’s decision in October to grant a use permit to the winery. On March 13, Hackett also filed a lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court against Napa County over the Bremer structures. Hackett was one of the main proponents of Measure C, the watershed protection ballot initiative narrowly defeated in 2018.

On Tuesday, the Napa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the two foot bridges and the rockwall and have the Planning Commission re-evaluate the other four structures.

Hackett alleged in his appeal that the Planning Commission had abused its discretion in October when it granted the winery a use permit.

In the summer of 2017, Napa County sued the winery owners, John and Laura Bremer, over zoning and building code violations, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was settled after the Bremers agreed to pay $271,464 to reimburse the county’s legal fees.

County officials alleged in their lawsuit the winery had hosted up to 7,800 visitors a year, according to court filings. As part of the settlement, the Bremers agreed to limit visitation to 70 visitors a day, or 3,600 visitors per year.

The settlement also allowed them to return to the Planning Commission to legalize structures built without proper permits.

Tuesday’s public hearing before the Board of Supervisors was shown on the web and on Zoom in an effort to spur social distancing and curb the spread of Covid-19.

Hackett’s attorney, William McKinnon, who spoke via Zoom, had trouble getting through before he was heard. He argued there is no “project” as defined under the law under which the structures were approved at the winery. “There is no ‘project,’” McKinnon said. “Therefore the ordinance does not apply, and therefore a decision based on that ordinance is void,” McKinnon said.

John and Laura Bremer acquired the property in 2012. The Bremers’ attorney, David Gilbreth, on Tuesday argued the improvements at the winery were done before the Bremers acquired the winery. Gilbreth also called Hackett’s lawsuit “completely frivolous.”

Chairwoman Diane Dillon, supervisors Ryan Gregory and Alfredo Pedroza were in the chambers while supervisors Belia Ramos and Brad Wagenknecht appeared via Zoom.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected.


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