Over the last two weeks, we covered parking in Yountville and how it impacts businesses and our community. This week, we will continue the conversation about what it takes to be a business in Yountville. Today’s topic: Use Permits. Use Permits are a term that everyone has heard of, but you probably don’t know the details about them unless you have opened your own business.
To open any business in Yountville, you must apply for a conditional Use Permit. Conditional Use Permits effectively tell a company what they can and cannot do. Each business is responsible for submitting a detailed application to the Town of Yountville Planning Department before operating in Yountville. The application asks for a business description, site photos and plans, parking management plans, signage sizes and designs, employee counts, occupancy expectations, and environmental impacts… to name a few. Once a Use Permit application is submitted, several departments must approve it before it goes in front of the Yountville Town Council for final approval.
Use Permits differ depending on the type of business you are planning to operate attached to the business and the location that a business decides to operate. So the Use Permit runs with the land, not just the business. Certain buildings and areas of town are zoned for different types of businesses. When a new business comes to Yountville, they are encouraged to seek a location that is already zoned for the kind of business they wish to open. For example, the building that the business Senses is currently located in is zoned for retail only. That means that a tasting room or restaurant is not now allowed to operate in that space. If a business were to come in with the desire to change the zoning (use), they would need to bring their concept to the Town Council. Changing the use is much more complicated than if a business plans to go into a properly zoned area of town.
A business is allowed to do it based on the town ordinance that the Town Council passes. When a business opens, it will determine what they are allowed to do and how they operate their business. For example, if a business was opened BEFORE the Employee Management Plan’s passing in 2015, they are not subjected to it. Another example of how Conditional Use Permits differ between businesses is the mandated 25% retail space for Tasting Rooms. Tasting rooms opened before the Town Council passed that ordinance do not need to have the retail component. And if a new business moves into a location and continues the same Use as the previous operator, then the new business gets to operate under the same Use Permit as the operator that has left. If a building sits empty and/or no operations for 12 months, then the Use Permit will come before the Council once a business wants to again open and operate.
In 2018, Yountville tasting rooms, with the Yountville Chamber of Commerce’s help, petitioned the Town Council to change to two ordinances to allow tasting rooms to grow their business:
- The ban on by the glass and by the bottle sales for onsite consumption
- Outdoor tasting rules
Both were allowed by the ABC, but tasting rooms were not permitted to offer them to visitors due to Town restrictions. The Town Council, with the help of local advocates, passed both ordinances. This allowed for changes in the tasting room’s conditional use permits, and they had to submit amendments to the planning department before being allowed to take advantage of the new rules.
When businesses wish to change something on their conditional use permits, they must fill out an application, and that application is also brought in front of the Town Council. Changes to a conditional Use Permit can trigger businesses having to follow new regulations and ordinances that the Council passed since they pulled their original permit. This can deter older businesses from making upgrades or offering new things for visitors. This situation arose when the owner (Thomas Keller Restaurant Group) of Edward James Plaza wanted to reconfigure the parking lot and close the entrance at Yount St. This process triggered a Use Permit change and would require the owner to join the Employee Parking Management Plan (EPMP). The owner submitted plans, completed the application process with the Town, and then brought the changes to the Council. The Council noted that the Use would change, and once the owner learned of this change to their Use Permit, they decided not to move ahead with the changes. Because the owner made no changes, they are allowed to continue operations under their previous Use Permit.
When the COVID-19 shutdown hit in 2020, many businesses in Yountville were no longer able to operate how they had continuously operated. The Town of Yountville created the Business Transition Support Program to allow businesses to change their mode of operating without it affecting their conditional Use Permits. The business community is calling to continue the program through at least the end of 2021 if not longer, to allow businesses to rebound from a year+ of hardship.
Conditional Use Permits are an essential part of how the Town of Yountville keeps track of how businesses are allowed to operate. If you are operating outside of your use permit, you can face fines and even potential closure. More details go into opening a business than what we have gone into here. Check out the Town of Yountville website and the Yountville municipal code, Chapter 17.156 USE PERMITS, to learn even more.