Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A large undeveloped property near Kenwood that was at the center of a bruising land-use fight a decade ago has been purchased by a Chinese real estate firm, raising both eyebrows and questions about the future of the picturesque community in the heart of Sonoma Valley.
The $41 million purchase, of a 186-acre site off Highway 12 near Lawndale Road, includes rights to develop a luxury resort and winery, along with a restaurant and almost a dozen high-end homes.
It remained unclear this week what the new owner, Tohigh Property Investment, a subsidiary of Chinese developer Oceanwide Holdings, intends to do with the property.
Read more via Chinese developer’s purchase of Sonoma Valley property could | The Press Democrat.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday approved the development of a new park, with basketball courts, soccer fields and a baseball diamond, at no cost to the city. The move overturned an earlier Parks and Recreation Commission decision denying the development and exposed a rift between the council and the influential commission.
The park will be built by the developer of the 1,450-unit University District housing development, a project just north of the Green Music Center that will add the first new homes in Rohnert Park in 25 years.
A state law allows cities to require that developers dedicate parkland as part of new housing projects. Rohnert Park’s code calls for 5 acres of parkland for every 1,000 new residents, in this case amounting to 21.96 acres, but it also allows the developer to provide park improvements instead of land.
Brookfield Homes, the University District developer, proposed to dedicate 13.66 acres, spread out over two parks, and make up the difference by adding around $2.5 million worth of amenities including sports fields, playgrounds and lighting. The Parks and Recreation Commission in November, voted 4-1 against this proposal, preferring instead to require the full 21.96 acres of vacant land for a future park.
Read more via Rohnert Park council OKs plan for new parks | 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.
Gary Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
The first significant housing development in Rohnert Park in 24 years is under way.
Site preparation has begun and construction on the first three of 12 new neighborhoods within the 260-acre Brookfield Residential Properties, Inc.’s portion of the 300-acre University District Specific Plan, is scheduled to begin in 2015 with a grand opening for these three neighborhoods set for later next year.
Some 399 new, single-family detached homes within the three neighborhoods will be built on a portion of a Brookfield University District mixed-use master planned community located west of Petaluma Hill Road, south of Keiser Avenue and North of the Rohnert Park Expressway adjacent to Sonoma State University.
Brookfield’s portion includes 1,236 residential detached homes and 218 attached residential units. The plan also includes a mixed–use commercial center, open space and public parks. Site preparation and grading began in July with DeSilva Gates Construction, according to Kevin Pohlson, Vice President for Land and Planning with Brookfield Residential’s Northern California office in Danville, the general contractor for the project. He said underground utilities installation work is scheduled to begin this month.
Read more via Home development gets underway in Rohnert Park – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.
Meg McConahey, SONOMA MAGAZINE
“Once you have a second home at The Sea Ranch, there are two kinds of days in your life. … The ordinary days you spend in the workaday world and the days you spend on this lovely stretch of seacoast — the days you wish would never end.” ~ From a 1960s ad for The Sea Ranch
Al and Diana Edgerton were tooling north to Mendocino for a July 4 getaway in 1964 when they were beckoned off Highway 1 by a “lots for sale” sign bearing a bold ram’s-horn logo.
The sales office had opened just that weekend for an intriguing new development dubbed “The Sea Ranch.” The deals were as seductive as the setting — thick hillside forests of redwood, fir and fern overlooking a tableland of meadows that meet the sea along a shore notched with nubbly cliffs and coves. Lots could be locked up for as little as $4,500 in the forest east of Highway 1, $8,500 in a meadow with at least a peek of the ocean.
“We stopped out of curiosity. We had never heard of The Sea Ranch,” Edgerton, a retired oral surgeon, remembered. “But we cut short our vacation in Elk and put a down payment on a lot.”
Read more via The Sea Ranch Coastal Legacy | Sonoma Magazine.
Martin J. Bennett, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Sonoma County is one of the most environmentally conscious places in California. Through conservation of open space, protection of the coast, organic farming, investments in rail transit, clean power, smart growth policies and a GoLocal cooperative, residents have tried to preserve natural beauty, reduce greenhouse gasses, and create a sustainable economy. However, the proposed expansion of the Wal-Mart discount store in Rohnert Park to become a supercenter selling both general merchandise and groceries undermines these efforts.
The Rohnert Park City Council approved the proposed expansion in 2010 but a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action in a suit claiming the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was flawed. Wal-Mart has now submitted a revised EIR that the City Council will soon consider (details below).
A supercenter will increase dependency on the automobile and increase traffic in an already congested 101 corridor; the supercenter operations and its supply chain will increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air quality in the region; and Wal-Mart campaign contributions will support candidates opposed to environmental protection.
A recent report by the Institute of Local Self Reliance, “Walmart’s Assault on the Climate,” cites Wal-Mart’s own documents to show that its total carbon emissions since 2005 have increased by 14 percent and reached 21 million metric tons in 2013. According to the report, Wal-Mart is one of the largest climate polluters in the nation; the company lags behind its peers in shifting to clean energy; and Wal-Mart admits that their greenhouse gas emissions will climb over the next decade. Why?
via Why Environmentalists Oppose the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Joshuone Barnes & Nicolas Grizzle, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Coastal Hills Rural Preservation
Sonoma County violated county and state laws when it approved a 60,000-square-foot expansion of a printing press at a Buddhist retreat in rural Cazadero, say a group of residents who filed suit against the county July 24.
“They need to have an [environmental impact report] to determine whether or not this printing plant should even be there,” says Coastal Hills Rural Preservation member Ward Anderson.
The county? “We’re confident in the legality of the board’s decision,” says Sonoma County deputy counsel Verne Ball.
The lawsuit cites a Timber Cover Fire District concern that firefighters aren’t equipped to handle a large emergency at an expanded Dharma Publishing facility at Ratna Ling Retreat.
The county gave final approval to an industrial-use permit in late June; it allows for up to 122 people to live and work at Ratna Ling. The mission: print sacred Buddhist texts for distribution to Tibetan monasteries.
Opponents point to a dangerous combo: rural facility, many employees, small FD. “If you’ve got a fire, you’ve got 120 people heading in the other direction,” says Anderson. Access to the site is limited to one-way lanes in each direction.
Expect a fight in county court within six months. “Cases settle quite frequently, but there hasn’t been any discussion in this case,” says Ball. “The applicant and neighbors are very adversarial.” —Nicolas Grizzle
via Debriefer: August 6, 2014 | News | North Bay Bohemian.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a permit for a Buddhist retreat center and its publishing operation in the coastal hills west of Cazadero violated county land use standards and state law, according to a lawsuit filed by a citizens’ organization.
Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, a group based in the Seaview Ridge area, alleged that Ratna Ling Retreat Center illegally expanded the printing plant operation and paper text storage structures on rural Hauser Bridge Road above Salt Point State Park.
In granting a new use permit that authorized all current operations and some additions to the retreat center on June 24, the supervisors violated state law by failing to require an environmental impact report, the lawsuit said. The board’s approval came on a 3-2 vote with Chairman David Rabbitt and supervisors Efren Carrillo and Mike Maguire in favor, and supervisors Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane opposed.
“This expansion of the printing and retreat operations at Ratna Ling was accomplished in a piecemeal fashion, avoiding regulatory and public scrutiny of the project as a whole,” according to the 30-page suit filed last week.
via Citizens' group files suit to stop Buddhist retreat's | The Press Democrat.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Bright yellow flags flutter in the breeze over a large metal building in the coastal hills of northwest Sonoma County, miles from urban hubbub and lights. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the banners are supposed to release prayers for peace and compassion into world.
Inside the half-acre sized steel building, presses run 12 hours a day, churning out sacred texts bound for the Himalayan region to nurture the Buddhist culture devastated by China’s invasion of Tibet in the 1950s.
Volunteers operating the presses at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center conduct a ceremony around a gold-colored stupa, a monument symbolizing the mind of the Buddha, and wash their hands before beginning work each day. A sign along the private road to the printing plant advises: “Banana Slug Crossing Be Aware.”
But the site, despite its reverent mission, is the source of angst reverberating in the redwoods of Seaview Ridge, a bucolic community of homes and ranches above Salt Point State Park, 90 minutes by car from Santa Rosa.
via Furor over Buddhist retreat center near Cazadero | The Press Democrat.
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cloverdale’s plan to stretch its city boundaries south to take in the historic community of Asti has been dropped, victim to criticism that the move would induce growth and threaten agricultural lands.
In the face of opposition from environmental groups and resistance from the government agency that approves annexations, the city recently agreed to limit its reach and exclude the former Italian Swiss Colony site approximately two miles from city limits.
Critics pointed out the extension of sewer and water to Asti would be expensive and there would be pressure to extend the utilities to adjacent properties and unincorporated county governed “islands” in between.
“We pretty much conceded Asti will not work,” said City Councilman Joe Palla.
via Cloverdale dropping Asti from expansion plans | The Press Democrat.