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Winery event center backlash grows in rural communities

Padi Selwyn, Co-chair, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
They used to call it God’s Country and then the Redwood Empire during the logging years. After a planting spree in the 1990’s, when vineyard acreage more than doubled to more than 60,000 acres, Sonoma County was rebranded appropriately as Wine Country. This boom created a frenzy of activity, the rampant overdevelopment of wineries and event centers, 90% of which are now located in our rural areas – that’s 439 facilities.
Cumulative Impacts 
The County of Sonoma has ignored the cumulative impact these facilities are having on traffic safety, our watersheds, our neighborhoods, and the intent of our general plan, which was to preserve greenbelt areas and community separators. They have ignored agricultural zoning by bending the rules to accommodate big business wine, and now we are seeing irresponsible behavior by the Board of Zoning.
On June 4th, the 7171 West Dry Creek micro-winery and mega-Event Center was presented to the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA)/Planning Commission.  However, the project defined in the June Staff Report was not the same project description presented for public scrutiny and input for the cancelled May 21st hearing.  Rather, it was materially different than both the project defined in the Use Permit and the previous application upon which the County based its environmental review.
The BZA decision included multiple fatal flaws:
1) the public had no chance to review the revised application,
2) the impacts of the intensified hospitality uses, including a commercial kitchen and weddings and 4,000 square feet of new facilities were never evaluated for impacts to road safety, and
3) the expert technical studies submitted by neighbors were ignored.
This process was clearly unethical and contrary to state law, yet it was approved by the BZA in a 4 to 1 vote!
Overtaking Rural Regions
Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC) is challenging the very disturbing trend of the county to blindly approve more and more event centers overtaking our rural areas, on one and two lane roads, where road safety issues and traffic congestion continue to deteriorate. The state of California is requiring groundwater sustainability – yet the county keeps approving more and more of these water-guzzling projects.
There are 2,600 special winery events each year permitted by the county, and an unknown number of non-permitted events. There are now twice as many event centers as the General Plan planned for by the year 2020! It seems that our Planning Commissioners and BZA members have not read the plan, yet they have been entrusted with our future.
Dairyman Winery/Factory
The Dairyman project, proposed for just outside the Sebastopol city limits on Hwy 12, is especially egregious as it may locate a huge development in an environmentally sensitive community separator, converting agricultural land into an industrial sized bottling production and party facility.  This violates the intent of the greenbelt community separator and the General Plan.

Joseph Wagner, the developer, and Caymus family of winemakers, has requested a use permit for:
• The production of 500,000 cases of wine, 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits
• 62 events each year with up to 600 guests each
• 87k square feet of production and office areas
They will be trucking in 99% of their raw materials, as they only grow 1% of what they need for their production goals. Hwy 12 is already a traffic nightmare and with the number of events and tanker trucks, we foresee an untenable situation.
The Wagner family was fined $1 million 2 years ago in Napa’s largest winery settlement for exceeding the permitted production capacity at their Rutherford winery, producing 20x more wine than allowed by their permit.  NOT a good neighbor!
The driveway into the Dairyman property crosses the Joe Rodota Trail, our popular walking/bike path. This will create safety hazards.
Because the property was formerly a dairy, it is zoned agricultural. We don’t believe that an industrial sized bottling and distillery factory should be allowed on land designated as agricultural and in a community separator.
The Dairyman project is the wrong size, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  
Balance Sought
With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, it’s hard to fathom how proposals for winery/resort/event center projects continue to be considered by our county.
County officials must begin to restore the balance between supporting tourism, without impacting the wonderful rural character that makes this area such a great place to live, to work and to visit.
Our battle is going to be a long one.  But, we feel that protecting our rural lifestyle and scenic beauty is critical work, for us and future generations.
To keep updated on these issues, – visit   http://www.preserveruralsonomacounty.org
And join the Facebook supporters at www.facebook.com/preserveruralsonomacounty

 
Source: Winery Event Center Backlash Grows in Rural Communities, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , Leave a comment on Wilson Winery events under scrutiny

Wilson Winery events under scrutiny

Guy Kovner & Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County planning officials are cracking down on Ken and Diane Wilson for what they say are a series of permit violations at the couple’s flagship Wilson Winery in the heart of Dry Creek Valley. The couple has been accused of hosting wine-related parties and events that overflow the region with traffic and noise.
The Wilsons, who own eight wineries in world-class wine grape growing regions in northern Sonoma County, argue they are being unfairly targeted, but county officials contend that the well-known winemaking duo are breaking the county’s rules, and flagrantly advertising and holding a slate of unauthorized events.

“I take the integrity of our county code seriously, and if people are going to violate it, they’re going to hear from me,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, who initiated strict action last year against another winery accused of breaking the rules for years. “We had similar concerns about violations with Bella.”

Sonoma County code enforcement officials served the Wilsons with a notice of violation May 6. The notice, essentially an order to stop holding events, was not made public until late last week. Driven by a wave of complaints from nearby residents citing concerns with vehicles and noise in their neighborhood, the action concludes a three-week investigation into Wilson by county code enforcement officials, who said they verified numerous complaints. Ken Wilson is appealing the notice and is set to appear in front of an administrative hearing officer later this month to argue his case.

“We didn’t know (we had) to ask for them,” said Wilson, reached at his vacation home near Toronto. He pointed out that the use permit for Wilson Winery — like hundreds of permits issued years ago for many other Sonoma County wineries — does not mention events.

“It was just assumed you could do them,” he said.

The county’s action against Wilson is the latest in a series of high-profile disputes involving winery development in Sonoma County. A trio of winery appeals — one involving the Wilsons’ new Hale Winery — are headed to the Board of Supervisors this year, and supervisors are expected to formally weigh in for the first time on widespread concerns over water, traffic and noise associated with wineries that double as event centers. Criticism, prompted by the significant increase in winery applications flowing into the Board of Zoning Adjustments over the past year, has grown more vocal as tourism in Wine Country skyrockets with the rebounding economy.

 
Read more at: Wilson Winery events under scrutiny | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County approves another new Dry Creek Valley winery

Sonoma County approves another new Dry Creek Valley winery

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Following a decision by Sonoma County zoning officials Thursday, an Illinois couple has the go-ahead to build a new winery, tasting room and wine cave on West Dry Creek Road, northwest of Healdsburg.
The 4-1 vote by the Board of Zoning Adjustments gave Mary Roy and Robert Covert approval to construct a 5,000-case winery and tasting room, as well as a nearly 4,800-square-foot wine cave on the 47-acre property.
The decision came over the objections of several neighbors, who contend there are too many wineries on narrow West Dry Creek Road. With Seaton Winery under construction less than a tenth of a mile to the north and Williamson Winery approved to be built a half-mile to the south, neighbors argued adding another winery would create serious traffic safety problems and take away from the valley’s rural character.
“The cumulative effect of these three wineries and tasting rooms when they all commence operations will have a serious impact on this narrow, half-mile section of West Dry Creek Road,” said Brian Watanabe, who lives near the property owned by Roy and Covert.
The couple purchased the site, which includes 20 acres of vineyards, two years ago. It was previously approved for a 5,000-case winery, tasting room and 3,000-square-foot wine cave.
Roy and Covert secured approval to expand the cave and remove a mobile home on the site and replace it with a 1,800-square-foot building, which will house a 665-square-foot tasting room and a commercial kitchen. They initially wanted to place the tasting room on a knoll but changed their plans after neighbors voiced concerns.
The couple also wanted to build an outdoor pizza oven and grill. Concerned the winery would focus too much on food service, commissioners quashed that idea.
The winery, however, has permission to host industry-related events eight days out of the year. It also can hold eight private events, such as winemaker dinners, charity fundraisers and weddings, with up to 80 attendees each. Weddings will be limited to five a year, and no large buses will be allowed on the site.
Read more at: Sonoma County approves new Dry Creek Valley winery | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery regulations

Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery regulations

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Dairyman winery proposal faces challenges from community

Dairyman winery proposal faces challenges from community

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, Transportation, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Large winery proposal on Highway 12 to undergo full environmental review

Large winery proposal on Highway 12 to undergo full environmental review

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.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , Leave a comment on Judge rules against neighbors’ challenge to Buddhist center Ratna Ling expansion

Judge rules against neighbors’ challenge to Buddhist center Ratna Ling expansion

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.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , Leave a comment on Guy Fieri drops plans for winery outside of Santa Rosa

Guy Fieri drops plans for winery outside of Santa Rosa

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.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma and Napa County residents oppose winery over-expansion

Sonoma and Napa County residents oppose winery over-expansion

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.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed winery off Highway 12

Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed winery off Highway 12

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.