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Plan for housing in vineyard controversial

A plan to build 76 home sites at the Indian Springs Vineyard is being called an attack on prime agricultural land by some local residents – and a needed boost to keep grape growing sustainable by the landowners.

Catlin Properties, which bought the Penn Valley vineyard several years ago and saved it from closing, is now looking at a glutted grape market and two years of substantial losses. So the firm that develops and manages commercial and residential property has proposed a Mediterranean-style subdivision woven through 447 acres to boost business.

“Developers have been doing it inside existing vineyards in Napa,” said Eric Hafter, who is handling the proposal from Catlin’s office in Sacramento. “If the land is too expensive to support farming, you make the land less expensive,” by putting building home sites that generate money.



“We’re trying to make the vineyard sustainable,” Hafter said Friday. “We’re still trying to figure it out, and we don’t want people thinking we’re tearing out the vineyard. We’re trying to make the most of the land.”

Hafter pitched the idea to the Nevada County Agricultural Advisory Commission this week and was met with skepticism.




Former Grass Valley city councilman and county land use buff Steve Enos suspects Catlin bought the vineyard during its bankruptcy proceedings as a speculative real estate holding.

“They bought this for residential estate parcels for rich people,” Enos said. “It’s the crown jewel of vineyards in Nevada County.”

After the meeting, Hafter said Catlin would do more brainstorming and is a long way from viable project.

“There’s 400 moving parts,” Hafter said. “It’s a major piece of algebra to figure out this equation.”

In a letter to Senior Planner Tod Herman in the county file for the proposal, County Agriculture Commissioner Jeff Pylman wrote, “I do not support the splitting of prime agricultural farmland into smaller lots for single-family residential structures.”

Pylman, a county employee, does not have a seat on the advisory commission. He also had concerns about the use of pesticides and herbicides on lands that are next to homes.

Pylman said he could support subdividing parts of the property that do not have agriculture, but wants to keep the entire vineyard intact. The plan calls for lots averaging 6.5 acres apiece, with some larger estate-sized properties and clusters of homes that would keep 80 percent of the vineyard standing.

To new agriculture commission member Karen Jones-Schimke, the proposal contradicts the board’s mission.

“The commission’s concern is prime ag land, and what’s going to happen to it, and how do we keep it,” Jones-Schimke said. “That’s what the commission is all about.”

By contrast, the landowner is more interested in developing the vineyard, or at least part of it to offset losses from wine growing, he added.

Other county officials also have concerns about the proposal, including Peggy Zarriello of the Environmental Health Department.

In a memo to Herman in county records, she said a full environmental impact report might be needed to see if residential lots and vineyards are even compatible. She also wanted to ask well drillers whether enough groundwater exists to support the site.

Another letter from the county fire marshal’s office said the vineyard sits in a high risk fire hazard area.

Catlin said in its proposal that it would try to address the concerns, including controlled spraying of the vineyards and minimal use of pesticides.

“It’s a beautiful place and we’re sensitive to all its elements,” Hafter said. He plans to bring a revised plan back to the county in the near future.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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