Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ken and Diane Wilson’s latest winery, to be built in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leaving the couple relieved to get a green light 13 years after the project was first proposed.
Culminating a three-hour public hearing packed with accolades for the winemaking family, the board voted 4-1 to deny a valley resident’s appeal challenging a previous county decision supporting the project, which was first proposed in 2005.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents winery-rich Sonoma Valley, cast the lone no vote, saying she was concerned that supervisors have failed to resolve the high-stakes question of over-concentration of wineries, which number more than 440 outside city limits.
“We have yet to grapple with it,” she said, referring to an issue that gained public traction in 2014.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8871075-181/wilson-family-wins-sonoma-county
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
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County planning officials have named high-powered winery executives, leading environmentalists and several rural residents to a 21-member panel formed to give input on the highly charged issue of winery development in the county.
The group includes officials from Jackson Family Wines and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau as well as neighborhood representatives concerned about development encroaching on the county’s rural character.
Between next month and March 2016, the panel is charged with crafting proposed regulations for the unincorporated area that could set new standards for events at wineries, including how many should be allowed per year and what type — from weddings to wine pairing dinners and industry events such as barrel tasting weekend.
The advisory process, set up to inform county planners and the Board of Supervisors, is launching amid an escalating debate over winery development in the county, focused especially on new and expanding sites that seek to double as event centers. The outcome, including potential tighter limits and more strict enforcement for wineries, is seen as having high stakes for the region’s signature industry.
“This is very important to the industry, but the impacts are also important to neighborhood activists,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, which oversees planning and building permits, including those for new or expanded wineries. “We’re going to be focused on what type of events should be allowed, and potential over-concentration of events in some areas.”
Rural residents have voiced increased concern about an onslaught of traffic and noise they say is associated with a growing number of special gatherings at wineries situated on backcountry roads. Neighbors also are worried about the strain on the region’s natural resources, including groundwater.
Winery owners and industry representatives say their projects have limited impacts, and they point to measures they have taken to reduce traffic and noise in their neighborhoods. They also defend their use of events to promote their businesses, saying such gatherings are crucial to boost direct sales.
Both sides acknowledge that the long-simmering debate about the issue has reached a boiling point.
Read more via: Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery | The Press Democrat
Alec Peters, THE KENWOOD PRESS
Neighbors opposed to the county’s approval of a use permit for a public winery and creamery on Sonoma Mountain Road have gone to court alleging that the county failed to properly evaluate the project’s environmental impacts.
The suit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Nov. 13 by Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road, and various neighbors of the Belden Barns project.
In October, the Board of Supervisors gave the nod to Belden Barns Winery and Creamery, a 10,000 case per year winery, and 10,000 pounds of cheese per year creamery. Also approved were tasting by appointment, retail sales, and up to 10 events (five with up to 60 people, three with up to 100, and two with up to 200). The 55-acre parcel is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road.
The board vote was 4-1, with First District Supervisor Susan Gorin opposed, raising issues about the project’s compatibility with the rural area and expressing concerns about the project’s impact on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile stretch that in some places is winding, narrow and in disrepair.
Opponents of the project had gathered the names of over 140 residents in the Sonoma Mountain Road and Bennett Valley area, encouraging denial of the project.
During the Board of Supervisors hearing, much of the debate centered around disputes over environmental studies conducted for the project.
In the lawsuit, Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road alleged a number of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s environmental law.
According to the lawsuit, county approval of the project was made despite, “substantial evidence in the record that the Project may cause a significant impact on the environment; including, but not limited to, groundwater impacts, traffic impacts, traffic safety impacts, noise impacts, visual impacts, general and area plan inconsistency, and cumulative impacts.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order that a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be done.
via The Kenwood Press – Lawsuit filed over Sonoma Mountain Road winery/creamery.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County planning commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to ban all events at Bella Vineyards north of Healdsburg and to halt wine tasting in the winery’s popular storage cave.
The swift vote by the Board of Zoning Adjustments came in less than 10 minutes after little discussion by commissioners. The action represented a strong crackdown unprecedented in the county’s history of regulating events at wineries.
“I’m saddened we got to this point,” said Jason Liles, a planning commissioner who represents Healdsburg. “I’m hopeful this will once and for all put to rest any confusion or disagreement.”
The restrictions on Bella take effect immediately. While banning a range of events, cave tastings and dinners, it does not prohibit the winery from holding wine tasting in its primary tasting room.
The formal vote came a month after county planning officials first presented evidence outlining more than a decade of permit infringements by Bella — from building code violations, to unauthorized events to prohibited wine pairing dinners in the hillside cave.
via Sonoma County halts events, wine-cave tasting at Bella | The Press Democrat.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday asked county planning officials to shift their priorities over the next two years to tackle divisive issues that could result in stronger environmental protections and tighter limits on development.
The direction, which the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department seeks from the Board of Supervisors every two years, was the first step in the county authorizing work on a number of new or revived initiatives. They include a tree ordinance to prevent removal of county woodlands, limits on medical marijuana cultivation, measures to create and retain affordable housing and regulation of events at wineries.
An overflow crowd sat in on what has in years past been a fairly subdued board discussion.
“I’ve never seen this much input,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Two dozen people spoke or submitted letters in support of creating tighter countywide rules for special events at wineries. They lodged complaints about increased traffic and noise in their rural neighborhood and raised concerns about the strain on scarce water resources.
Judith Olney said traffic from winery events has become heavy in her neighborhood off Westside Road.
“Our neighbors are literally being driven off of our roads,” Olney said. “It’s a serious issue.”
Read more via Winery events top meeting about county planning priorities | The Press Democrat.
Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
“The question is, are we at capacity for vineyard acreage, and what are the cumulative impacts?” Mark Luce, Napa board chairman
NAPA — Amid calls for a moratorium on new vineyards and wineries in Napa County because of concerns about visitor traffic and water shortages, county government’s top decision-makers on such projects directed staff to give them a clearer view on the situation by this fall and develop solutions for streamlining the environmental-review process and informing more neighbors about project proposals.
Concerns about how the wine industry grows and uses land in Napa County have been around as far back as the establishment of the trailblazing agricultural preserve in 1968 and the Winery Definition Ordinance WDO of 1990 plus subsequent additions. But they have reached a new fervor in the past few years, as direct-to-consumer DTC marketing, particularly exclusive experiences on estate property, is seen as the lifeline for the luxury side of the business, a local plan for greenhouse-gas emissions curtailment emerges and California’s farms are being increasingly scrutinized for use of groundwater, especially in a year with a governor’s emergency drought declaration.
The confluence of all these streams of public policy flowed through a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission on May 20. The two meet annually in May and October to discuss land-use planning issues, but the urgency of this meeting was exacerbated by increasing public complaints that they aren’t finding out about wine-related projects soon enough, concern from applicants that the environmental review process was taking too long, neighbor worries about new wells and effects on aquifers, a number of appeals of project approvals and rise in the hospitality-related elements of projects.
via Napa supervisors eye winery visitor impacts – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.