Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved a controversial proposal to develop a winery and creamery on Sonoma Mountain Road, a decision that could draw to an end a two-year battle between Bennett Valley neighbors opposed to the project and the family seeking to launch its new farmstead.
With Tuesday’s 4-1 vote approving the project, Nate and Lauren Belden will be able to build their long-envisioned Belden Barns Winery, producing up to 10,000 cases of wine per year and 10,000 pounds of cheese. And while vineyards line Sonoma Mountain Road, the Beldens’ project would be the first winery on the stretch between Pressley Road to the west and Jack London State Historic Park on the east.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district includes the project, was the sole dissenting vote.
During a heated and sometimes emotional exchange between Gorin and other board members, the two-term supervisor pressed her colleagues to address concerns she shared with a large group of neighbors opposed to the project, including increased traffic on a narrow, winding mountain road and potential threats to public safety, sensitive wildlife habitat and water resources.
“This is truly an amazing project, in the wrong location. The road is very very dangerous, especially at night,” Gorin said at the end of a nearly five-hour public hearing, adding that she is “stunned” the project will move forward despite hazardous road conditions.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Gorin added, before telling her board colleagues that she’d continue pressing for road safety measures, including new signage and turnouts. She raised the possibility of demanding the board approve millions in new funding to reconstruct the entire length of Sonoma Mountain Road.