A plan to convert a Sebastopol apple orchard into a vineyard is causing concern among parents whose children attend several schools bordering the property.
Many parents learned of the project last week when a house and barn on the Watertrough Road property were demolished, said Christine Dzilvelis, whose daughter attends nearby Orchard View School.
“Word spread like wildfire and within two or three days we had dozens and dozens of families on board (opposed) to this,” said Dzilvelis.
Paul Hobbs Winery purchased the property in 2012 and applied to develop the vineyard in March. The property is situated across from several schools including Apple Blossom School, Tree House Hollow Pre-school, Orchard View School and SunRidge Charter School.
Parents started an online petition seeking to halt the vineyard April 25, garnering more than 170 signatures by Tuesday.
“Nobody wants their child exposed to something that could hurt them,” said Dzilvelis. “This is hundreds of students and not just one school.”
Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar said the permit for the vineyard project is still under review, but the winery plans to use methods that would actually reduce the amount of pesticide substances drifting off the property.
“The type of equipment used for this conventional orchard leads to much more potential for drift,” Linegar said. “The fact that a vineyard is going in exponentially reduces the potential for pesticide exposure.”
Tara Sharp, a spokeswoman for Paul Hobbs Winery, said the winery's goal is to be “good stewards of the land.”
Paul Hobbs Winery has come under fire in the past for not obtaining the proper permits for some of the work it has done on other properties purchased for vineyard use, including clear-cutting trees.
The vineyard will be maintained sustainably, and the winery is drafting a written agreement with the school district to perform no work during school hours, Sharp said.