Tag Archives: events

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Tension flares between wineries and residents

 Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

“Right now, there are some areas of severe over-concentration, i.e. Valley of the Moon, West Side Road and Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg,” notes Padi Selwyn, one of the co-founders of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, an organization advocating to protect the area’s rural character. The County of Sonoma’s general plan had projected 239 wineries in place by the year 2020, yet has approved nearly 500 wineries to date, with more in the pipeline, she adds.

While many wine regions in California have been growing by leaps and bounds, few have developed at the recent pace of Sonoma County.

According to the Santa Rosa, California-based Permit and Resource Development Management Department of Sonoma County, from 2000 to 2015 there was a 300 percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 450 now.

More wineries offer a wider spectrum of wine-tasting experiences – food-pairing options and party venues have been attracting more locals, and visitors, along with more traffic and with it sometimes drunk drivers. While winery owners may be thrilled about some of the results, many local residents clearly are not.

The Napa Valley long ago emerged as California’s leading wine region. Careful planning in the region set aside much of the area’s land for agriculture by creating the US’s first Agricultural Preserve in 1968, according to Patsy McGaughy, the St Helena, California-based communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).

This pioneering legislation was followed two decades later by the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which was enacted in 1990. It has since dictated how many wineries can be open to the public, serve food and number of visitors and events each can host per year.

“The reason Napa became a brand and can command premium value both for wine and for land, pay its workers well and support public services as a result, is because of the genius of the Wine Definition Ordinance, defining wineries as an agricultural use [of the land],” according to Barbara Insel, president and CEO of the Stonebridge Research Group, a wine industry analyst.

While other wine regions have yet to see nearly the same level of consumer interest and have allowed their regions to grow naturally, Santa Barbara hit a snag after the 2004 release of Sideways. The film sent reams of tourists rushing to the area’s wineries and restaurants, and clogged the 5000-resident Danish-themed town of Solvang located in the center of its wine country.

“The tension started after Sideways,” agreed Morgen McLauglin, the executive director or the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Locals saw wineries as bringing visitors that clogged roads, caused traffic jams and encouraged drunk drivers. One of the results of that uptick in visitors led to a winery ordinance that the region has been working on for four years. One that McLauglin says is among the most restrictive in terms of the number of tasting rooms permitted.

Read more at: Tension Flares Between Wineries and Residents | Wine News & Features

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After languishing for more than a decade, a luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood is again moving forward, bolstered by new owners and prior approval from the county that appears to pave the way for construction.

The 50-room hotel on a plateau overlooking the Valley of the Moon — along with a luxury spa, 125-seat restaurant and small winery — was the subject of a bruising land-use fight a dozen years ago before being stalled further by the recession.

To opponents, the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn, as it’s now dubbed, epitomizes the steady onslaught of new wineries, tasting rooms and events that are changing the face of the picturesque valley, piling more cars on to busy Highway 12, which averages more than 18,000 vehicles per day in Kenwood, according to state traffic counts.

“It is something that is going to have an impact for sure,” said Kathy Pons, president of Valley of the Moon Alliance, a community group. She worries not only about traffic, but the hillside resort’s visibility and light emanating from it at night.

Read more: Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Alec Peters, THE KENWOOD PRESS

At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, some residents of Sonoma Mountain Road challenged the findings and analysis of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared for the Belden Barns winery and creamery project.

The Belden Barns development proposal, the first of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road, is asking the county for a use permit for a facility that would process 10,000 cases of wine and 10,000 pounds of cheese. There would be public retail sales and by appointment tastings, and eight agricultural promotional events a year with 60-200 attendees.

Current structures on the property would be torn down, and 15,851 square feet of new buildings would be constructed – a production facility, tasting room, and employee housing unit.

The 55-acre property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road, about one and a half miles east of the Pressley Road/Sonoma Mountain Road intersection.

The voluminous DEIR concluded that any environmental impacts could be reduced to a “less than significant level” with the implementation of mitigation measures, a finding that speakers at the July 19 Board of Supervisors meeting took issue with.

Specifically, speakers said that no efforts could mitigate the road safety issues on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile, two-lane road that is narrow and windy in places, and considered one of the worst roads in Sonoma County.

In addition, some speakers questioned the hydrology analysis of the DEIR and whether it accurately represented the project’s impacts on nearby water sources.

Also discussed by the public and board was the DEIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project as proposed, including eliminating the tasting room or having it be off-site, such as in Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park. Another alternative under review is one that eliminates the events component.

Throughout the entire time since the Belden Barns first filed their use permit request in 2012, a number of neighbors have been concerned about future development in the Sonoma Mountain Road area if Belden Barns was approved. Those concerns were voiced again at the July 19 hearing.

“Please keep in mind there are 16 vineyards in the immediate area that are in line to follow the Beldens,” said Donna Parker, who lives right across from Belden Barns. “And why not? They can make more money right where they are. So the precedent setting nature of this proposal cannot be ignored.”

The hearing on the DEIR was held to receive oral comments on the document. County planners and an environmental consultant have been receiving written comments as well. The next step involves responding to all the comments and bringing a final EIR back in front of the Board of Supervisor, who at that time will consider the overall merits of the project as well, likely this Fall.

That hearing will mark the second time the Board of Supervisors has been asked to approve the Belden Barns Project. By a 4-1 vote in November of 2014, the board approved the project. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voted against issuing the use permit.

A group of Sonoma Mountain road residents, the Friends of Sonoma Mountain, soon filed a lawsuit against the county. In June of 2015, a settlement was reached, which required that an EIR be conducted. The settlement set aside the board’s initial approval of the project and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” a legal term barring Friends of Sonoma Mountain from suing again on the same claims.

Source: The Kenwood Press – Belden Barns environmental review questioned

Filed under Land Use

Sonoma County limits on wine industry in the works

Padi Selwyn and Judith Olney, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

With 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits with 60 more in the pipeline, we have reached a tipping point. Since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in the number of wineries built, exceeding the General Plan assumption of 239 wineries by 2020.

More info at preserveruralsonomacounty.org

Last month’s winery events study session by the Board of Supervisors was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance wine industry interests with a growing backlash by concerned citizens. Property owners expressed concerns that environmental degradation, unruly crowds, loud noise, traffic safety issues and congestion on narrow roads are destroying tranquil rural character and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.

But it’s clear that this is going to be a long process, with new ordinances projected for by Spring 2017. There are many more meetings to be held, and input by the Planning Commission needed. Meanwhile, the wine industry continues lobbying for fewer restrictions, while the overflow crowd of concerned citizens in attendance sent a clear message to county officials that it’s time to rein in winery development and limit the number of promotional events.

As an example, the wine industry continues to advocate that the county categorize events by attendees or by sponsor. Unfortunately, merely labeling a dinner-dance as a “distributor meeting” does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking, or the potential of impaired drivers on rural one-lane roads. This re-naming of high impact promotional and hospitality uses – such as winemaker lunches or dinners – as “tasting room or business activities”, is a thinly veiled attempt to exempt these events, food service and accommodations from environmental review and use permit conditions required to reduce the impacts to less than significant.

Read more at: Sonoma County Limits on Wine Industry in the Works

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation

Sonoma County supervisors signal support for limits on wineries, events

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A majority of Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for new regulations on one of the largest sectors of the local economy — wine-related tourism — a move that signals the likelihood the wine industry will face greater county scrutiny and potential limits on new development and business activity.

The consensus came about during a first-of-its-kind four-hour study session on the growth of the county’s signature industry. Supervisors agreed the county needs to act, citing widespread concern among residents about the increase in wineries that double as event centers and commercial impacts on roads, resources and the character of rural areas.

“I grew up in Dry Creek Valley. I’ve been to weddings and parties at vineyards, but it’s a different day now,” said Supervisor James Gore, who represents the north county, including Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. “This is from a guy who people say is owned by the wine industry.”

Supervisors Susan Gorin, Efren Carrillo and David Rabbitt joined Gore in calling for crackdowns on wineries found to be holding unauthorized events, with Gore and Rabbitt calling for a so-called “three-strikes” rule for wineries that repeatedly break the rules.

All four said they also are concerned about the cumulative impacts of winery development, and an increase in events in recent years that has worsened traffic, drained water supplies and added noise in rural neighborhoods. Of the 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits, 291 sites are allowed to host events.

The next move could include the drafting of new regulations that could limit such activities in the future, while balancing the needs of the wine industry. Planning commissioners and supervisors would need to sign off on any final rules.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors signal support for limits on wineries, events | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation

Napa, Sonoma struggle with winery events

Staff, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Napa and Sonoma counties are in the midst of reviewing how they handle rural winery projects amid increasingly vigorous opposition.

Both counties are part of a public-policy discussion happening in a number of popular West Coast wine tourism regions, such as Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Wine business advocates contend that marketing of the high-end beverage has changed dramatically in the past decade, with tighter bottlenecks in traditional distribution channels and thus more need for direct-to-consumer sales efforts. Project opponents contend that wine tourism and greater production are choking rural roads with traffic and transforming the quiet rural environment, and a number of wine business operators aren’t following existing limits on production and visitation.

Opposition has brought winery project processing to a near halt in Napa County in the past few years and led to high-profile fights against projects in Sonoma County, such as celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s unsuccessful plan. Wine business groups have been proactive in providing ideas for reforming the project-review process to protect right-to-farm provisions as well as land-use protections, particularly the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve.

Read more at: 2015 review: Napa, Sonoma struggle with winery events | North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Critics, supporters of Sonoma County wineries pack hearing on new regulations

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An estimated 500 people packed the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on Monday for a meeting to gather public input on potential new regulations on winery development in Sonoma County — a high-profile issue that has drawn backlash from rural residents protesting growth as well as sharp criticism from wine industry representatives who say they are helping preserve open space.

Neighbors who live in prime grape-growing regions like the Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys have been increasingly vocal over the past year about the surge in applications for new wineries, as well as the spread of tasting rooms and wineries that double as event centers.

Scores of rural residents, environmentalists and industry experts spoke at Monday’s three-hour meeting in front of a crowd that appeared split on the issue.

About half the audience wore green T-shirts emblazoned with thick white lettering that read “Proud to support Sonoma County Agriculture,” while others wore stickers that said “Let’s preserve rural Sonoma County.”

Critics say the proliferating operations are drawing unruly crowds, traffic and noise to their bucolic settings, threatening public safety, natural resources and a rural quality of life.

“The present pace of wineries, tasting rooms and events is increasing at an exponential pace — more regulations are needed,” said Wendy Krupnick, a Santa Rosa Junior College teacher who is active with the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farms. “This cannot be sustained without depletion of the agricultural land and water, creating a problem that will discourage visitors and frustrate residents.”

Read more at: Critics, supporters of Sonoma County wineries pack hearing | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Planning update for Sonoma County coast draws scrutiny 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Today’s public meeting runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Timber Cove Fire Station, 30800 Seaview Road.

More information and a copy of the draft plan are available online at www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal.

Newly drafted guidelines for future development along the Sonoma Coast are inspiring interest and, in some cases, anxiety about potential policy shifts that some fear could alter their cherished coastline for the worse.

Land-use activists are especially concerned about broad language on the topic of agricultural tourism, marketing and promotion that they say paves the way for winery event centers of the sort that have sparked opposition inland, and they’re gearing up for a fight.

“We feel that the coast is a really inappropriate place for that to be happening — that the coast needs the protection that is already in the general plan, and that that language just opens up the coast to development by wineries,” said Sebastopol resident Reuben Weinzveg, a spokesman for Residents to Preserve Rural Sonoma County.

At issue is an update of the county’s Local Coastal Plan, required by the California Coastal Commission and meant to guide planning for the next 20 years in a roughly 86-square-mile area that includes the 55-mile coastline and inland areas along the Russian River estuary, the Estero Americano near Valley Ford and portions of the Gualala River basin. Agricultural uses account for 32 percent of the land-use designations in the area.

Read more at: Planning effort for Sonoma County coast draws scrutiny | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight 

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Acknowledging public sentiment to tighten up enforcement of permits for wine production in Napa County, the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 got their first look at new tools for doing so, including reviewing compliance annually, attaching violation notices to property records and making those operating flagrantly outside their limits have a one year or longer “timeout” in seeking permission for permit changes.

This discussion on major changes to the way the county keeps tabs on what wineries are doing comes amid growing public concern about wine production and hospitality operations in rural areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. And some involved in planning policy in Sonoma County have been looking at the current Napa County winery audit as a potential model for measuring and regulating wine-related visitation and facility scaling in rural areas.

Full public hearings on such measures are set to come in September and November, so the board was giving staff direction on get-tougher recommendations coming from planning and building staff as well as an advisory committee of agriculture and environmental protection representatives and the most recent Napa County Grand Jury.

Read more at: Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight | North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Land Use