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Winery Event Center Backlash Grows in Rural Communities

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Winery Event Center Backlash Grows in Rural Communities

By Padi Selwyn, Co-chair,
Preserve Rural Sonoma County

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. (BZA)

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