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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

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Luxury resort, winery approved in Sonoma Valley

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A proposed luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood that withstood court challenges before languishing for more than a decade is again moving ahead following a favorable decision from the Sonoma County Planning Commission.

Despite a vigorous campaign by opponents, the commission on Thursday unanimously upheld design changes to the future inn, spa and restaurant and affirmed that the project has a vested right to go forward.

“Legally we really don’t have a big leg to stand on if we decide this project isn’t going to go through,” said Commissioner Dick Fogg, adding that the design changes were not sufficient to require further review, or delay.

“I think it’s a better design. I like it,” said Commissioner John Lowry, echoing the comments of his colleagues on the 50-room hotel, luxury spa and 125-seat restaurant and bar. A relatively small 10,000-case winery and 11 homes that were previously approved have yet to undergo design review.

Opponents led by the Valley of the Moon Alliance have been fighting the hotel and resort since its inception about 15 years ago, viewing it as part of the steady onslaught of wineries, tasting rooms and events that have altered the face of the picturesque valley and piled more cars onto busy Highway 12.

Read more at: Luxury resort, winery approved in Sonoma Valley | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Westside Road has 29 approved wineries, making it one of the most concentrated winemaking zones in Sonoma County, alongside Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. Some neighbors have grown increasingly frustrated with the spread of wineries and events in those areas, and county supervisors are expected to return to that discussion sometime this fall.

A proposed new winery in one of Sonoma County’s most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions was rejected Thursday by county planning officials over concerns about traffic safety and the high concentration of existing wineries.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments voted unanimously to deny a permit for a Westside Road winery southwest of Healdsburg envisioned by Leslie Rudd, the owner of the Oakville Grocery stores. Rudd’s team plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors, making for another high-profile case in the countywide debate about the spread of wineries and the special events they often host.

Read more at: Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner | The Press Democrat

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Ex-Cloverleaf Ranch site proposal sparks debate over development in rural buffer zones 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to revive and revamp shuttered lodging and event grounds off Old Redwood Highway are being met with resistance from Sonoma County environmentalists who say the project will encroach on rural lands voters eight months ago overwhelmingly agreed to protect from large-scale development.

The project would transform more than 20 acres just north of Santa Rosa into a new business called Solstice Sonoma, envisioned by San Francisco architect Kevin Skiles and his partners as a modern yet rural getaway for weddings and retreats, and for others seeking an escape barely removed from city services and Highway 101.

Originally developed as part of the Cloverleaf Ranch camp and horseback riding school next door, the site is located within one of the buffer zones between cities that received an additional 20 years of protection through the passage of Measure K last year.

Known technically as community separators, the buffer zones remain subject to longstanding county rules requiring voter approval of large new projects such as major housing tracts, shopping malls or other commercial developments.

Proponents contend the Solstice plans are in keeping with county land-use rules, including Measure K. Construction would be hidden behind a hill covered in grapevines, rendering the new development invisible to passing motorists, and the site was used for decades as a camp and event facility.

But critics say the proposed construction goes far beyond what land-use rules allow in rural buffer zones and what voters agreed to in November. They see the project as a key test of the strength of Measure K, which passed with more than 81 percent of the vote.

“This project definitely pushes the envelope,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, which spearheaded the ballot measure. “This is one of the last visible green buffers between Santa Rosa and Windsor.”

Parts of the project were evaluated Wednesday by Sonoma County’s Design Review Committee, which still needs to hold at least one more meeting to consider the proposed design in more detail. That committee does not have any land-use authority — ultimately, the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will need to approve or deny the project, a step at least a few months away. The zoning board’s decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Read more at: Ex-Cloverleaf Ranch site proposal sparks debate over rural buffer zones | The Press Democrat