Appeals on Walt Ranch vineyard project in Napa County denied

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Appeals to a controversial vineyard project proposed by the owners of Hall Wines on the slopes of Atlas Peak were dismissed by the Napa County Board of supervisors Tuesday, allowing the project to move forward.

After extensive environmental studies, in June the Walt Ranch project was approved by County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison, but after four appeals were filed the project was brought before the board.

Walt Ranch has proposed to plant vineyards totaling 209 acres on a 2,300-acre property west of Monticello Road (Highway 121) in the eastern hills of Napa Valley. The property, accessed via Circle Oaks Drive, has been owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall since 2005.

The Circle Oaks Homes Association and Circle Oaks Water District appealed the project, as did local advocacy group Living Rivers Council, and the statewide environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity.

The Napa Sierra Club also filed an appeal objecting to what it described as plans to clear-cut almost 300 acres, or 14,000 trees for vineyard development, eliminating wildland habitat, wiping out “carbon stores” meant to absorb greenhouse gases, and destabilizing the soil.

Nearby residents expressed concern that pumping millions of gallons of water annually from the ground could endanger the water supplies of hundreds of local residents, while project-generated erosion and landslides could threaten house foundations, roads and water-delivery infrastructure.

The board’s decision was unanimous. Supervisors said the project was in keeping with the general plan. The tentative decision will be finalized at the Dec. 20 meeting.

“It’s possible one or more of the appellants will pursue their case in court,” Morrison said. “We’ll have to wait and see how it proceeds, as of today the project is approved by the county.”

Walt Ranch developers has maintained that the project will have minimal affect on the surrounding area. According to their website, for most of the year, vehicles entering or leaving the Walt Ranch vineyard site will be almost unnoticeable, as there will be not be a winery on-site or the ability for tourists or the public to access the site.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.

Correction: The project calls for 14,000 trees to be removed, not 28,000.

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