Proposal to turn Napa vineyard into industrial land generates dispute | Local News
Trying to turn vineyards into industrial land is a potentially controversial undertaking in agriculture-protecting Napa County, and that’s proven to be the case with 157 acres near American Canyon wetlands.
The owners of 1661 Green Island Road want adjacent American Canyon to annex their land so it can someday be developed. They say saline soils preclude continued operation of vineyards there.
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Two things are needed for annexation. American Canyon must expand its voter-approved growth boundary. The landowners filed to circulate a petition in the city to create the necessary ballot measure.
Also, Napa County’s Local Agency Formation Commission must approve the annexation, one of the major powers of this low-profile county agency.
On Monday, the landowner Green Island Vineyards LLC asked LAFCO to at least take a first step and declare the land a potential city annexation area. The commission unanimously declined to put the land into the city’s sphere of influence.
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“I think the preservation of agriculture is important enough to be worried about any potential precedent or slippery slope here,” county Supervisor and LAFCO member Ryan Gregory said.
But some LAFCO members seemed more amenable to putting the land in a future annexation area, even if they first want to see the results of the ballot initiative.
“It bothers me immensely when we talk about slippery slopes and precedent-setting here in terms of the Ag Preserve,” former American Canyon City Councilmember Kenneth Leary said, referring to unincorporated areas where Napa County restricts development to protect farmland. “To me, it says we’re not going to give up an inch of ag land, no matter what the cost, no matter what the need.”
All of that means that the debate is not settled, but rather will continue at some point.
Green Island Vineyards was planted in 1997. The application to Napa County LAFCO lists Will Nord, Ed Farver and David Gilbreth as managers.
“This is a unique piece of land that should have belonged to American Canyon in the first place,” said attorney Doug Straus on behalf of the applicants. “It belongs there now.”
The applicants said the irrigation water available is recycled water from American Canyon. This water contains salt and, with the clay soils on the Green Island property, salinity built up over the years.
Gilbreth spoke of “salty dirt clods.” Consultant Paul Anamosa talked of salinity putting vines into a “death spiral.”
Anamosa said perhaps the county grand jury should look into whether American Canyon should be selling its recycled water as suitable for agriculture.
Farver said he and Nord have farmed in Napa County for decades. This particular property had 149 acres of vineyards, but vines withered. Today, 39 acres are planted and these will be removed.
Applicants pointed to reports they had done that concluded salinity and economics make agriculture no longer viable on the land.
The Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County submitted a joint letter to the commission opposing any immediate action to annex the land. They said wine grape growing isn’t the only type of agriculture; for example, hay, oats and rye are crops that do well in high-salinity soils.
“Moreover, it would present a very dangerous precedent in Napa County to approve sphere of influence amendments merely because an owner deems the property unfit for a specific crop return,” they wrote.
David Morrison, county director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services, spoke against having LAFCO put the land in American Canyon’s sphere of influence at this time.
Saying land isn’t economically viable for farming is an argument used in California to allow urban sprawl, Morrison told the commission. Auto malls and other developments are more economically viable than farming on lands next to cities — and then the circle keeps moving out and more farmland is developed.
American Canyon resident Scott Thomason in a letter pointed out the property is near the American Canyon wetlands trail. Building winery warehouses on it would change the landscape of an area that attracts thousands of people each year, he said.
The American Canyon City Council in April talked about possibly expanding city boundaries someday. Councilmember Mark Joseph saw the Green Island Vineyards annexation request as something he’d like to see looked at sooner rather than later.
“The county may not buy off on it, but from our point of view, it’s a no-brainer,” Joseph said.
However, the city in December sent a letter to LAFCO saying it takes “no position” on the Green Island Vineyards annexation request.
The Green Island Vineyards owners could seek to develop the land as industrial in the unincorporated county without annexation to American Canyon. That would mean securing county permission.
But then Napa County’s agriculture-protecting Measure P would come into play. Measure P calls for a countywide vote to change agricultural land-use designations.
LAFCO did grant one request from Green Island Vineyards LLC. It agreed to put the land into the sphere of influence for the American Canyon Fire Protection District. That involves providing firefighting and emergency medical services to the site.
The fire district already has a mutual aid agreement with the Napa County Fire Department and has provided services to the area since 1957, a LAFCO report said.
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You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or [email protected]