The Kenwood Press
News: 11/01/2016

Design of resort OK’d; appeal likely

Alec Peters

Despite protests from one committee member and the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), Sonoma County’s Design Review Committee approved the design of a 50-room hotel, restaurant, and spa in Kenwood.

The Sonoma Country Inn project received its use permits back in 2004, which also included approval of 11 home sites, and a winery, all on part of what was once the Graywood Ranch. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was conducted and certified at the time.

The Oct. 19 Design Review Committee meeting was tasked with reviewing the design characteristics of the hotel/inn/restaurant, including site design, architecture, landscaping, lighting specifics, and colors.

The project, to be located on a saddle portion of a hillside, consists of a main lodge, 19 cottages, a spa facility, 125-seat restaurant, and 102 parking spaces.

By a vote of 2-1, the Design Review Committee approved the design details, which now allow the developer, Tohigh Investments, to pull building and grading permits to begin construction.

However, VOTMA said they plan to appeal the decision to the county’s Planning Commission. A notice to appeal had to be filed by Oct. 31, after press time.

VOTMA has argued that conditions, such as traffic and water, have changed substantially in the last 12 years, so as to warrant another look at the EIR that was approved earlier.

VOTMA has maintained in part that state environmental laws require a new EIR, and that the current design does not match the original conditions of approval.

“You need more information before you’re in a position to do a design review,” said VOTMA member and Kenwood resident Roger Peters at the hearing. “What’s gone on the last 12 years is worthy of a new traffic study.”

Peters later said that an appeal would be based in part on arguing that the Design Review Committee approval did not properly review the changed impacts and environmental effects of the revised project.

At the meeting, committee member Misti Harris said that the panel’s responsibility was solely limited to the design presented in front of them.

“We have no authority to comment on things like traffic and water,” said Harris. “Whether buildings are moved or not is not our purview…our job is not to look at the EIR. It’s already been certified.”

The committee listened to a presentation from a number of the developer’s consultants who described a variety of design aspects, including the use of earth tone colors, natural materials, low reflectivity glass, recessed and downward lighting, and measures to screen the development as much as possible from the valley below.

Design Review Committee member Jim Henderson said he believed that it was a well-designed project that minimized any negative impacts.

However, committee member Peter Wurtz expressed concerns, including that some of the cottages had been moved down a hill, the spa location had moved, and that some of the parking areas had changed.

“I can’t accept a site plan that’s vastly different than what was approved,” said Wurtz, who voted against approving the design.

The county project planner for the Sonoma Country Inn, Melinda Grosch, said that no specific site design was part of the 2004 approval. The developers at the time, said Grosch, were given a building envelope, and told to site any structures within that envelope and keep within certain height limits.

In her staff report, Grosch wrote that any modifications to the structures and facilities were, “minor.”

VOTMA is having its monthly meeting on Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m. at the Kenwood Depot, where an update will be given on the Sonoma Country Inn.