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County residents request a moratorium on new winery spaces

Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

While many wine country regions have welcomed revenue from new businesses, the somewhat-still-rural hamlet of Sonoma County clearly has conflicted sentiments.

Compared to the top-dollar region of Napa Valley, which was smart enough to self-regulate itself a half century ago, and less affluent areas such as the New York Finger Lakes that tend to support new development for economic reasons, wine industry regulation and growth in Sonoma has not been an easy process.

The county includes some of the most bucolic land – complete with ocean views – in California wine country. Its major towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and, more recently, Sebastopol have been attracting low-key, yet quite profitable tourism for some decades. Most of the area’s tasting rooms also don’t charge a $50-plus per-person reserve tasting fee and traffic has primarily been manageable on Sonoma’s small roads for a number of decades.

However, local residents have come to a boiling point about vehicles, noise and general exuberant indulgence within their county’s limits. Roads in the region are rustic and new wineries have been sprouting up like poppies for decades.

According to Tennis Wick, the Santa Rosa-based director of Permit Sonoma, the county currently has 467 wineries approved in unincorporated areas. The “general plan for Sonoma County projected 239 wineries by the year 2020 because that number was environmentally prudent. 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 500 now,” shares Padi Selwyn, the co-chair of Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), a group that has spearheaded local residents’ desires to moderate new winery and event space openings.

Read more at https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/08/locals-continue-to-clash-with-sonoma-wineries

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The fate of Chanate

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Jeremy Nichols is a board member of the nonprofit Bird Rescue Center that serves Sonoma County, and he is troubled. The county is kicking the bird hospital out of its Quonset hut in the middle of 82 acres of public property known as Chanate.

Forested hills straddle Chanate Road as it winds through eastern Santa Rosa toward the ashes of Fountaingrove. The county has promised the land to William Gallaher, a local banker who develops senior living communities and single-family homes.

Gallaher’s partner in the deal, Komron Shahhosseini, is a planning commissioner for Sonoma County—a relationship which may pose a conflict of interest, according to a Haas School of Business ethics expert who reviewed details of the deal.

Hundreds of Santa Rosans, including Nichols, have mobilized to stop the sale, objecting to its terms at public meetings, in letters to the editor and in a lawsuit that went to trial in Superior Court last Friday in front of Judge René Auguste Chouteau. The trial took three hours, and the judge is expected to rule within 30 days on whether the development deal can go forward.

In early July, Nichols and two members of the activist group Friends of Chanate took me on a walking tour. Since the 1870s, the Chanate property has been the dumping ground for the county’s social and medical ills. It was originally the site of a work farm for low-income residents, then a public hospital complex. Now it’s ragged and falling down.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/the-fate-of-chanate/Content?oid=6621048

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Proposed 867-unit Chanate Road housing project gets critical reception at Santa Rosa neighborhood meeting

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hundreds of people crowded into a Santa Rosa community center Monday to weigh in on a proposed housing project at the site of Sonoma County’s old hospital complex in the city’s northeastern hills.

Most reflected strong resistance to the size of the planned development and the impact they fear it would have on traffic, local schools and the character of their neighborhoods, among other concerns.

The project as currently envisioned would include nearly 870 housing units at the 82-acre county-owned site off Chanate Road. It was presented for feedback at a neighborhood meeting at the Finley Community Center, a step required by the city before the developer applies for planning permits.

The crowd of more than 300 community members often erupted into cheers and applause — or even some booing, when appropriate — to reflect the severity of its displeasure with plans that one commenter described as a “monstrosity.”

Of particular concern to those in attendance was the impact to traffic on Chanate Road, which is predominantly two lanes and serves as a main thoroughfare in the area. Critics are deeply concerned that placing hundreds of new residents right off an already congested route would make getting around even more difficult, particularly during commute times, and potentially exacerbate difficult evacuations during a disaster like last year’s wildfires.

“Every route that you had there was cut off,” said Frank Schulze, who lives near the project site, describing roads in the area during the October firestorm. “The only way to get the hell out of the way of this fire was to come out Chanate Road and go down onto (Mendocino Avenue). That was it.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8471490-181/proposed-867-unit-chanate-road-housing

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Petaluma housing development moves forward despite concerns

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The 14-year-old Sid Commons, one of the largest proposed residential projects in Petaluma, continued its slow crawl toward approval thanks to a split city council vote on the development’s preliminary environmental report after a lengthy meeting Monday night at City Hall.

Residents near the project site, located on 15 acres at the terminus of Graylawn Avenue between the train tracks and Oak Creek Apartments and just south of the Petaluma River, trumpeted trepidations for a draft environmental impact study they felt came up short on traffic analysis and mitigating the potential harm to the area’s hard-fought flood protections.

The council echoed those concerns to the developer, J. Cyril Johnson Investment Corp., and city staff. On a 3-2 vote, with council members Gabe Kearney and Chris Albertson absent, the council allowed preparation of the final environmental impact report to begin contingent on an updated traffic study of Payran Street, which has steadily become a main thoroughfare, connecting Petaluma Boulevard North and East Washington Street.

“People use it to avoid East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and they use it to get to the north end of the boulevard,” said councilwoman Kathy Miller. “There’s quite a bit of traffic there … you sit for a long time.”

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8354231-181/petaluma-housing-development-moves-forward

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Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards 

Janet Perry, THE WINDSOR TIMES
One of Sonoma County’s most highly acclaimed vintners has found his vision for the future at odds with citizens concerns over the impacts of commercial vineyards and their events.
David Ramey said that he “purchased the old pumpkin farm, which attracted substantial visitors and traffic, with the vision of building our family winery for coming generations. We’ve been leasing our two wineries in Healdsburg but do not own them, which involves a measure of uncertainty.”
Ramey was granted a conditional use permit by the County Board of Zoning Adjustments for development on his Westside Farms’ property on Westside Road.
The permit, issued Sept. 21, was appealed by environmental groups and citizens on Oct. 2. Appellants are calling upon the board of supervisors to “address the cumulative impacts from the commercialization of agriculture land, and define protective standards that preserve what brings tourists to Sonoma County in the first place, our rural character and small town charm.”
Craig Enyart, of Maacama Watershed Alliance, challenged the county supervisors in the appellants’ Oct. 5 press release announcing the appeal. “Enough is enough — it’s past time for the supervisors to provide staff, planning commissioners, applicants and taxpayers the guidance they’ve repeatedly requested, addressing general plan requirements and the cumulative impact issues raised during the 2015 Winery Working Group process.”
(In 2015, Sonoma County appointed 21 locals from among the wine industry, environmental groups and rural residents to a working group tasked with identifying the growing pains of the wine industry in Sonoma County and how best to mitigate those problems.)
Read more at: Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards | News | sonomawest.com

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David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
One of Sonoma County’s most esteemed vintners has cleared a key hurdle on his way toward building a long-sought winery on Westside Road, but he’s bracing for continued opposition from residents who say his plans would place too great a strain on the rural corridor outside Healdsburg, already one of the most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions in the county.
David Ramey, winemaker and co-owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, received the blessing this week from a majority of planning officials who considered his proposal for a 60,000-case winery and tasting room operation that has been in the works since he and his wife, Carla, bought the 75-acre site of the former Westside Farms nearly five years ago.
While Ramey’s project passed the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on a 3-to-1 vote Thursday, it could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by any one of the residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about its scale and impact, including traffic from events and visitors to the public tasting room. Ramey is expecting an appeal, meaning supervisors could have the final say on the matter, barring a court battle.
Read more at: David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board | The Press Democrat –

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Westside Road winery seeking expansion

Frank Robertson, HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE
Whether the rural splendor of Westside Road can withstand its evolution into a high-end wine tasting mecca will be one question in the air at a public hearing coming up in two weeks.
The Sept. 21 county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) hearing will address renowned winemaker David Ramey’s ambitious plans for a winery with multiple tasting rooms, guest housing, commercial office space and picnic grounds to accommodate more than two dozen annual promotional parties, some with up to 300 guests.
Ramey’s project has drawn outcry from opponents who say it’s simply too much even for Westside Road, one of the most visitor-centric destinations in wine country.
“This is the most intense project ever proposed for Westside Road,” read a letter from the Westside Community Association regarding the Ramey project on 75 acres known as Westside Farms, where a weathered hop kiln building is a designated county historic site.
Besides a new winery and wine cave, The Ramey project includes a tasting room in the old hop kiln building and another private tasting room in the adjacent barn, along with overnight marketing accommodations and parking for approximately 80 cars.
Read more at: Westside Road winery seeking expansion | News | sonomawest.com

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Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.
After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.
The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.
“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”
The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.
Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

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Zipcar coming to Santa Rosa

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa residents who don’t want to own a car but might like to zip around in one sometimes are in luck — Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing company, is coming to town.
The City Council today is expected to sign off on a deal allowing the company to operate two of its rental cars from city parking lots — one at the downtown SMART train and the other next to the Russian River Brewery.
The hope is that the service will give people yet another reason kick their fossil-fuel burning cars to the curb in favor of more environmentally friendly options like bicycling or public transportation.
“We’re looking for ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled and the car-share concept is a way to allow people to eliminate car ownership, or at least reduce the number of miles they need to drive,” said Kim Nadeau, the city’s parking manager.
The service, which began in the Boston area in 2000, is already available in 500 cities around the nation. After a period of rapid growth, the company was sold in 2013 for $500 million to Avis Budget Group. The company first rolled into Sonoma County in March 2016, when it began renting out two cars at Sonoma State University.
The expansion to Santa Rosa was made possible by a $170,130 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority providing subsidies to Zipcar and SCTA for administration of the program for two years.
Read more at: Zipcar coming to Santa Rosa | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County Buddhist retreat center prevails in long-running lawsuit over expansion plan

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A three-year legal fight over the controversial expansion of a Buddhist retreat and publishing operation in rural northwestern Sonoma County came to an end this week when the California Supreme Court declined to hear opponents’ final challenge.
The high court’s Aug. 9 decision leaves in place an earlier ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeal, which decided the county was not required to conduct the kind of comprehensive environmental review sought by residents concerned about the planned expansion of the Ratna Ling Retreat Center.
Fueled largely by concerns about fire risk at the retreat facility in the forested coastal hills northwest of Cazadero, opponents had wanted the state Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s May 16 ruling. The opponents’ failure to receive such a review marks the conclusion of their lengthy legal dispute, which began in 2014 when residents sued claiming the retreat center violated land-use standards and county officials had not conducted a proper environmental analysis.
Ultimately, the case centered around four tentlike storage structures Ratna Ling uses to house sacred texts. Opponents argued those tents posed a fire risk, but Ratna Ling supporters have contended they are safe, and noted the center implemented safeguards such as sprinklers and an on-site fire engine.
Read more at: Sonoma County Buddhist retreat center prevail in long-running lawsuit over expansion plan | The Press Democrat