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
David Abbott, SONOMA WEST TIMES
A massive winery proposed by a Napa County winemaker near the crossroads of Highway 12 and Llano Road east of Sebastopol will now be subject to a full environmental review, but opponents of the project are still pulling out all the stops in hopes of stopping it.
The applicant, Joe Wagner, a second-generation vintner from the Caymus winemaking family, agreed to a full environmental impact report (EIR) early this month for his Dairyman project after receiving significant backlash from the community.
Opposition to the proposed winery and event center that envisions 500,000 cases of wine production a year, 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits, as well as about 60 events a year and wine tasting, became official at a Feb. 4 Sebastopol city council meeting.
Although the 68-acre property is outside of Sebastopol’s jurisdiction, council voiced opposition to the project and solidarity with members of the public that showed up in force once the winery application became public in late January.“
After (the council meeting), we met with a number of people and decided we needed to mobilize,” Ruben Weinzeg said.
To that end, Weinzeg joined a group spearheading the creation of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), which is working in partnership with the Rural Alliance, a local grassroots organization “working to preserve the natural resources and rural character of Sonoma County.”
PRSC believes it has discovered a technicality that could throw a wrench in the works, as the winery will need to get an easement to cross the Joe Rodota Trail for access to the property.
The groups are encouraging the Sonoma County Parks and Recreation Department to deny the easement, citing precedence when the county denied an easement to Santa Rosa Junior College for a 20-acre parcel on Highway 116 to the north of Sebastopol that abuts the JRT.
That property now belongs to Sebastopol Independent Charter School, which is in talks with the county Regional Parks Department.But the Dairyman process is still in its infancy, as the EIR will take at least a year and has not even officially begun as yet.
Read more via: Winery proposal faces challenges from community – Sonoma West Times and News: News
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Napa County winemaker whose plans for a large-scale winery and distillery on Highway 12 between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa have sparked significant dispute since they were unveiled earlier this year has decided to subject the project to a full environmental impact report in hopes of addressing the public’s many questions and concerns.
Joe Wagner, a member of the Caymus Vineyards winemaking family, said it’s been clear for weeks that the breadth of opposition to his Dairyman project demanded greater effort on his part to demonstrate its potential for improving the site’s appearance and productivity without substantial environmental harm.
He said he confirmed his decision to engage in a full-scale independent environmental review for the project after meeting last week with 5th District Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who agreed it was the right approach.
“Obviously, it’s expensive and lengthy,” Wagner said Friday, “but it is something that allows the community the opportunity to join in and chime in and become part of the process.”
But it’s not clear additional study will assuage Wagner’s critics, some of whom are holding a community gathering Saturday in Jenner to discuss the larger winery backlash that organizer Shepherd Bliss said has coalesced around the Dairyman plan and other recent winery proposals.
Read more via Large winery proposal on Highway 12 to undergo | The Press Democrat.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma County judge has tentatively ruled against a citizens group that went to court to challenge expansion plans for a Buddhist retreat and printing facility in the forested hills northwest of Cazadero.
Judge Elliott Daum still has nearly three months to craft a final ruling in the case against the Ratna Ling Retreat Center and against Sonoma County, whose officials, at various levels, have approved of the plans and previous changes at the site.
But Daum’s eight-page tentative ruling issued March 25, took a point-by-point approach to the lawsuit and found neighbors’ arguments insufficient to persuade him to overturn the county’s approvals.
The project “appears to involve a number of changes to the existing, approved uses and facilities,” Daum wrote, “but they are all of the same kind, each rather small, each change merely modifies individual components of the existing ones and sometimes without any increase at all.
“Contrary to Petitioner’s argument it does not involve a huge increase of printing facilities,” he said.
His assertion rebuts key positions articulated by the suit’s plaintiffs, a group calling itself Coastal Hills Rural Preservation.
The case hinges on the group’s belief that years of building creep at the spiritual retreat site and plans for additional development would impose an industrial-scale printing plant and warehousing operation on the rural community in violation of the county’s general plan and zoning ordinance, without proper environmental review.
Read more via Judge rules against neighbors’ challenge to Buddhist center | The Press Democrat.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Guy Fieri has decided not to fight a decision by Sonoma County planning commissioners to reject his proposed winery on a rural road west of Santa Rosa, an unexpected surrender from a celebrity chef whose network of nine restaurants now stretches across the country.
The decision represents the growing influence of neighbors and others who have spoken out against Fieri’s plans and other proposed or existing wineries that seek to double as event centers in bucolic county settings.
Representatives for grape growers and winemakers have admitted to unease in their ranks that the rejection of Fieri’s project could signal a stiffer regulatory stance at the county level for the area’s signature industry and the tourism business it generates.
“This has elevated our concerns,” said Bob Anderson, executive director of United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, which represents about 250 local grape growers and wineries.
The vote against Fieri’s proposal was exceptionally rare, one of only two winery projects rejected outright by planning commissioners in several decades, according to Sigrid Swedenborg, the veteran county planner who oversaw the Fieri winery proposal. It called for a 10,000-case winery at his 7.25-acre Willowside Road property, including a tasting room and permission to host 14 events a year.
Read more via Guy Fieri drops plans for winery outside of | The Press Democrat.
Shepherd Bliss, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Residents from throughout Sonoma County are meeting to strategize about challenging recent proposals for new and expanded wineries as event centers in rural areas. Meanwhile, the Napa County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a March 10 meeting to hear critics of winery over-development.
The huge Dairyman Winery and Distillery proposed for high-speed Highway 12 in the greenbelt separator between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa has been the main target of Sonoma County opponents. It is near the intersection of an already congested two-lane highway and the frequently-flooded Llano Road in the vulnerable Laguna de Santa Rosa vicinity.
Groups such as Sonoma County Conservation Action, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Sebastopol Water Information Group, Rural Alliance, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, and Apple Roots sent critical comments on Dairyman to Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD).
Vocal Dairyman opponents include a former County supervisor, former mayor, former Planning Commissioner, and former PRMD planner. Environmental scientists, sustainability advocates, food farmers, concerned parents, and the maker of the acclaimed film “Russian River: All Rivers” have spoken against the Dairyman application.
Entrance to Dairyman Winery just east of busy intersection on Hwy 12
They oppose it on many grounds: congested traffic; water over-use, especially during droughts; blocking the popular Joe Rodota trail; damaging the fragile Laguna de Santa Rosa and its wildlife; zoning violations; chemical use that would pollute water, air, and land; and violating the Sonoma County General Plan.
Grape growers and the wine industry contribute many valuable benefits to Sonoma County. Most critics appreciate a good glass of local wine. But they advocate moderation when it comes to such proposals, contending that Dairyman is too big and in the wrong place.
Imagine tipsy tasters crossing the Joe Rodota Trail, full of bikers, skateboarders, children in strollers, walkers, and pets and then entering 60 miles-an-hour traffic. The application demands that Trail users “yield” to the winery’s many vehicles attending up to 58 events a year with as many as 600 people a time.
Read more via Sonoma and Napa County Residents Oppose Winery Over-Expansion.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sebastopol City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to urge Sonoma County officials to deny approval for a large-scale winery and distillery being proposed on former dairyland off Highway 12 about 2 miles east of town.
The application for the proposed Dairyman Winery and Distillery is still months away from formal consideration by county planning bodies, but the plan already is generating opposition among conservationists and Sebastopol-area residents concerned about potential impacts on wildlife, traffic, water supply and the area’s status as a community separator. Many feel the project is more industrial than agricultural; the property is zoned for farming.
Among the issues is the project’s location in the middle of protected habitat for the California tiger salamander, which is federally listed as an endangered species. There also are seasonal wetland areas on the site associated with Gravenstein Creek, which runs through the property and is a tributary to the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
Opponents also fear gridlock on an already congested two-lane stretch of Highway 12, given estimates for event attendance at the winery and trucking of up to 1,000 tons of grapes per year to the site, some of which would be held in cold storage for later processing.
There are about 40 acres of vineyards on the property that would stay in production, said Napa Valley vintner Joe Wagner, who owns the 68-acre property and is proposing the project.
Wagner, whose Belle Glos winery is among several labels owned by his family — the same clan behind Caymus Vineyards — envisions a full-scale winemaking and bottling operation large enough to eventually make 500,000 cases of wine a year, as well as 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits.
Read more via Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed | The Press Democrat.
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.
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.