Portola Valley Planning Commission considering key findings for Neely tasting room permit | News | Almanac Online |

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Portola Valley Planning Commission considering key findings for Neely tasting room permit

 

The Portola Valley Planning Commission is studying several questions to determine whether it should approve an amendment to a conditional use permit that would allow a wine tasting room at Spring Ridge Winery, also known as Neely Wine, on Portola Road.

The application by the Neely family, which owns the winery, has inspired opposition from some neighbors who say they want to preserve the "rural character" of Portola Valley and are concerned about potential problems with noise, traffic and other issues that the tasting room might generate.

The 228-acre property could also be sold for housing development, according to Portola Valley Planning Director Laura Russell.

The Neely family's latest modification to the proposal that would address residents' objections specifies a reservation system that would limit wine tasting and wine sales to 16 hours per weekend, which would include Fridays, and limit the number of visitors to 12 per hour during daytime hours.

Weekday wine tasting and sales would be by appointment, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and limited to 30 visitors per day.

There would be six standard distribution days and three special-release distribution days per year in which wine club members would pick up their wine at the site, with a limit, respectively, of 150 guests and 100 guests . There would also be one community event, where amplified music would not be allowed.

The current revised proposal maintains that all vehicles traveling to the site on routine daily visits and distribution days can be accommodated by the 32 parking spaces already on site, along with 13 additional gravel parking spaces.

The Planning Commission on Feb. 5 provided feedback to town planning staff about seven points, including whether the proposed tasting room is properly located in relation to the community as a whole; whether the size of the site is adequate for the proposed use; whether the site is adequate in size; how the tasting room would affect abutting properties; and whether the property can be safe from storm water runoff, soil erosion, earthquakes and other hazards.

Other issues include whether the tasting room would be in harmony with the purpose and intent of the town's general plan, and whether it would meet a need in town and satisfy the commission's interest in having a majority of the clientele come from Portola Valley.

The commission and town staff will prepare findings on these questions before the commission considers the amendment to the winery's permit. There is no formal timeline for the commission's deliberations, according to Lucy Neely, the winery's marketing director.

"The question is whether the findings can grant the conditional use permit," Neely said. "If at a future meeting they approve our request, we would have our permit to change how we're operating."

The reaction of the commission on Feb. 5 to the proposal's compliance with the criteria seemed to be positive in general.

Commission Chair Jon Goulden indicated that he thinks the tasting room would benefit the effort of the town to maintain its rural character rather than detract from it.

"How are we going to stay rural?" Goulden asked. "We can have a winery, and it feels like something that would help the town in the long run."

Commissioner Nicholas Targ also registered a positive response in addressing the question of whether the tasting room conforms with the town's general plan, which emphasizes "rural character."

"Rural doesn't mean pretty," Targ said. "It means rural, including agriculture."

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Comments

33 people like this
Posted by Photo Op
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 11, 2020 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for the accompanying image of the Neely building.

It was built with a Town conditional use permit as a "barn" to store hay and related farm equipment for the then-existing open meadow.

It's quite remarkable that the building has been camera-ready all these years to function as a picture-perfect retail wine tasting and event space.


14 people like this
Posted by Lucy Neely
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:36 pm

Hey there! Lucy Neely chiming in here, in response to the previous comment...

In fact, the barn has not been 'camera-ready all these years'. We've done a lot of work to clean it up, and there's more to do. You're right, though - it is remarkably handsome! and that's great that you think it looks like a perfect retail wine space. My parents hold amazing aesthetic standards, so anything that would be built here is going to be handsome, including an agricultural building.

A lot of people have chimed in with this "those dang Neelys always intended it as a wine tasting space!!" conspiracy theory, and I can tell you that's simply not true. When the building was designed and constructed, we were operating in a completely different business paradigm and had no thought towards a tasting room. And, if we'd always intended the building as a tasting room, why would we be needing to make cumbersome interior modifications to bring it up to code, that we could have avoided in the original design process? I do understand the draw to adopting untrue and unproven but convenient theories, though - it's only human and we all do it.

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

All the best,
Lucy Neely


40 people like this
Posted by Gerald Kohs
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:35 pm

Dear Rick Radin,

Do you really want to dismiss all of the community outcry as just "some" neighbors...concerned about "potential" problems that "might" be generated?

The Almanac has been covering this story for nearly a decade and has a rich archival file of all of the controversies and concessions and agreements various planning commissions have dealt with.

The latest iteration is probably the most controversial because it now moves us away from earlier horse-trading on whether a hay field is that much different than a vineyard field, etc. We're now at a stage in the Neely development plan that moves us into an actual retail business open to Portola Road at a scenic corridor location surrounded by public and taxpayer-supported open space.

To cite just one of the many issues Town residents have raised, there are serious safety concerns. Please review the document which calculates an additional 13,000 "crossings" annually at the site's driveway location with Portola Road's vehicle and bike lanes and pedestrian and horse trails. These are crossings created by a single for-profit land owner. These are crossings that are impacted to some degree by the nature of the business. (reference the Wine Spectator study that concludes, "Most of us end up drinking at least a small amount of wine during tastings, which can add up, and alcohol levels under 0.08 can still result in impaired abilities.")

Neely supporters would like us to compare these 13,000+ numbers with the much larger Windy Hill parking and traversal numbers -- but the two enterprises are completely different.

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.

Finally, there are three issues that have been inadequately reported on -- and not even fully understood by all parties:

1. Neely supporters claim that there will be an actual community benefit in this for-profit retail business. Until there is a Town-wide survey, or even a referendum on the entire proposal, none of us can legitimately claim that there is an unmet community need for a new retail business (and certainly not one at this location).

2. Supporters also claim that the only alternative the Neely's have, economically, is to consider sub-dividing the property for housing. Many of us have already offered other options for running a successful winery without relying on a retail wine tasting and event space, which the Neely's and some commissioners continue to ignore.

3. However, the most fundamental misunderstanding by the public as well as some of the commissioners is this: Even if the commission approves this project, the Neely's retain the full and complete right to sub-divide the property at any time in the future. So, approving this project does absolutely nothing to "save" us from development.

Thanks for your consideration in reading our comments.

Gerald and Anne Kohs
Portola Valley residents





14 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:20 pm

Whatever...I support the Neelys and I never met them. We’re not gonna collapse. Its less than a fraction of church traffic. Live and let live man...


7 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 12, 2020 at 11:22 pm

The town has already been bastardise by what has been done to alpine beer garden. You may as well let these wonderful people have a tasting room. And if it was me. And effed wit me I would sell the land for high density low cost housing for people from Palo Alto.


34 people like this
Posted by uh oh!
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 12, 2020 at 11:49 pm


It is surprising to me that the building has already been "fixed up” before you have your CUP approved. Why would you make that investment if the intent was not to have a tasting room? Certainly wine club members can pick up their wine in a barn. It puts them closer to the real agricultural aspect of your winery and the land that is close to your heart.

You could not get a tasting room approved, so you did the next best thing. A building was initially rejected on the property....you waited and then tried again with an unclearly defined project but managed to get it through. Apparently the town residents were not notified so that we could pay closer attention-- or were they, in a limited 300 ft zone? Oh, but it was only a barn for storing haying equipment.

I'm sorry, it is hard to believe that all the additional acres of grapes were planted without a plan to create a tasting room. A room that now you say you just cannot do without! There are alternatives. Your family has had other agricultural concerns in another state. Perhaps more states? You are not naive players in the agriculture commercialization world. This is why people do not believe your story. It is not a conspiracy theory, it is just watching what is going on, seeing how you work the system and knowing that you are quite sophisticated and well positioned to get what you want. You knew the conditions placed on your property and yet you planted more grapes. You knew the risks associated with the wine business and yet now you plead innocence. Please know that this is not about you, even though you are the agents of the change, it is about altering the character of our home permanently with something that just does not fit its character.


11 people like this
Posted by Josh
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 13, 2020 at 11:07 am

Wow, can anyone see the Barn from Portola Rd or the cars that are parked there right now? I had the pleasure of sitting at the Barn overlooking a few vines and a ton of beautiful trees surrounding the space. Felt like being on Windyhill not some huge commercial winery out of Napa. It does seem careful attention to the use of the land was considered with Rural in mind.


13 people like this
Posted by Robin
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 14, 2020 at 4:11 pm

I agree with Commissioner Tag that rural doesn't mean pretty. It means agriculture. But agriculture does not mean music and wine tasting. The mix of daytime "wine tasters" behind the wheel encountering hikers, joggers, bicyclists and folks on horse back is frightening. Please, Town leaders, consider the safety issues.

Allowing commercial/retail activities in the meadow preserve sets a dangerous precedent.



10 people like this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 15, 2020 at 9:35 am

Robin's comments don't seem fair at all. There is Parkside and Alpine Inn serving way more alcohol in this community, lunch and dinner, than what is proposed by the Neely family. The proposal put forward is limited to a small number of customers on weekend days with 1 oz pours. Doesn't seem like a Danger to our community or a threat to safety. Hope the town supports this local Business.


18 people like this
Posted by Charley
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 15, 2020 at 11:12 am

Hey Charles -- Thanks for your comments.

The proposed business is not really going to be limited to "a small number of customers on weekend days."

The Neely's want the wine tasting business to be open every day of the week -- 30 customers each weekday, 60 customers on Friday and Sunday, and 72 customers on Saturday. Also, additional events days of 100 to 150 customers for each event are planned.

In terms of "fairness" -- the Town has already been incredibly generous to the Neely family. Several very significant zoning Conditional Use Permits have been granted, allowing expansion of the vineyards, and also expansion of the winery business proper.

By the way, I love the Parkside Grille and Alpine Inn. Don't you think it's unfair to compare them (as restaurants which serve wine) to the Neely's proposed wine-specific business?


5 people like this
Posted by Charley
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 16, 2020 at 8:57 pm

Charles, thanks again for your interest. Have you had a chance to double-check the customer numbers?


3 people like this
Posted by Robin Harper
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 17, 2020 at 1:58 pm

Hi,
Very first comment here, long time resident,
I am curious if the tasting room has a plan for additional parking somewhere? As I see it, the Windy Hill Parking lot on weekends is already packed and overflowing traffic goes onto Alpine Road and over to the Town Center. Increase in crime/theft traffic violations, and other concerns to be considered, here if no additional parking is considered.

However I support Lucy and her local business and women with dreams.


6 people like this
Posted by Jess R.
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 17, 2020 at 3:51 pm

Hi Robin,

It's really great to have more residents offering ideas. This positive and respectful discussion will be a big help as the Commissioners prepare for their next meeting.

To get an idea of the parking arrangement, just take a look at the Neely proposal. It's on the planning commission agenda pages, online.

Luckily, we live in a town where all of us support women with dreams.

We only object to a new tasting room and event space in this Portola Road/Windy Hill location.

Can you suggest another location closer to already existing businesses?


7 people like this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 18, 2020 at 10:14 am

I say if you like the Parkside experience go for the Parkside experience. If you like the Alpine Inn experience go for the Alpine Inn experience. If you like the Neely Tasting room experience, make an appointment and enjoy the Neely Tasting room experience. Personally, I would prefer the Neely Tasting room experience.


10 people like this
Posted by Robin Harper
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 18, 2020 at 5:54 pm

Jess R,
What about using the building next to the Parkside Grille facing Alpine Road?


12 people like this
Posted by Robin Harper
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 18, 2020 at 6:20 pm

Sorry facing Portola Road


7 people like this
Posted by Gerald Kohs
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 19, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Dear Robin Harper,

Thanks so much for your creative solution -- your idea resolves the entire community conflict.

Best regards,

Gerald Kohs


2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 19, 2020 at 9:37 pm

WoW! That's a lot of sour grapes. Hope the Neely's can keep the naysayer's from spoiling their plans. I will gladly add their wine tasting facility to Parkside and the Alpine Inn.


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