Oct 23, 2017
Photo above: Sonoma County’s historic Westside Farms, where "going to the farm" meant family outings to enjoy hayrides and pumpkins, is now slated for development as tasting rooms and an event center.
By Padi Selwyn
Several Sonoma County groups and their representatives have appealed the September 21st Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) approval of a large winery and event center at 7097 Westside Road near Healdsburg, the site of historic Westside Farms. A main concern is that many of the project’s features set dangerous precedents for event center development throughout Sonoma County. Meanwhile, the County continues to delay the development of standards to address over-concentration and related issues.
Among the concerns cited in the groups’ appeal are the environmental impacts and road safety. The project generates significant traffic in an area with inadequate sight lines, creating a dangerous stretch of road where there are already three winery/event facilities, including a wedding venue, located within ½ mile of the Westside Farms property.
Also, appellants point out the over-concentration issue. The high intensity hospitality and promotional nature of the project detrimentally adds to the cumulative impacts of the existing over-concentration of wineries in the Westside Area. That Area has 29 wineries/tasting rooms permitted, and a road hosting over 20 large-scale bicycle events, which already presents safety hazards and joint road use conflicts. Since 2008, the General Plan has required policy standards, but development of standards has been continuously delayed.
Appellants include Forests Unlimited, an organization working to protect forests and watersheds and has specific concerns about the removal of mature native trees and the project’s water impacts.
Additional appellants are Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, a group concerned with detrimental concentrations of tasting rooms in Healdsburg and in the County; Sonoma Coast Rural Preservation near Gualala and the Maacama Watershed Alliance of Knights Valley, both of whom are focused on protecting fragile ecosystems from over-commercialization, especially our coastal zones, and lands protected by the Franz Valley Specific Plan respectively.
Craig Enyart, a long-standing environmental advocate from Knights Valley, said: “Several prohibitions in the General Plan, Zoning Code and Uniform Rules for AG Preserves (Williamson Act conservation lands) were over-ridden by the planning staff and BZA members. For a winery that sells 90% of its product through the distribution channel, this project has a disproportionate focus on hospitality. Appellants agree with one BZA member who stated the area is over-concentrated and voted against the project.”
Enyart added: “It’s past time for the Supervisors to address General Plan requirements and the cumulative impact issues raised during the 2015 Winery Working Group process.”
Warren Watkins, supportive of Healdsburg’s tasting room regulations, summed it up: “In 2014 and again in 2016, the Board of Supervisors passed resolutions directing planning staff to address areas of concentration. Just like the cities of Healdsburg and Sonoma are setting density standards in their downtown areas, let’s stop kicking the can down the road. It is time to address the cumulative impacts from the commercialization of Ag land, and define protective standards that preserve what brings tourists to Sonoma County in the first place - our rural character and small town charm.”
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