The Kenwood Press
News: 11/01/2016

Belden Barns final EIR released, hearing set

Alec Peters

A controversial proposal to put a winery and creamery on a 55-acre property on Sonoma Mountain Road will be heard at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting.

The final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project was recently released, setting the stage for the supervisors to consider certifying the EIR, as well as make a final decision on whether or not to approve or reject the project as proposed, or to modify it.

The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15, at 2:15 p.m. in the supervisors’ chambers, 575 Administration Dr. Room 102A, in Santa Rosa.

The Belden Barns Farmstead and Winery project first applied for a use permit back in 2012, prompting immediate and continuing opposition from many neighbors about the proposal, the first of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road.

Residents, who have organized as Friends of Sonoma Mountain, have expressed many concerns about what they fear is the precedent setting nature of the project on a 7.5-mile, two-lane road, considered one of the worst roads in Sonoma County.

Belden Barns is owned by Nate Belden and his wife Laura. They bought the property in 2005. The land has about 20 acres of vineyards, formerly known as Steiner Vineyard.

Belden Barns is asking the board to approve a use permit to build a facility that would process 10,000 cases of wine and 10,000 pounds of cheese. There would be public retail sales and by-appointment tastings, and eight agricultural promotional events a year with 60-200 attendees.

Current structures on the property would be torn down, and 15,851 square feet of new buildings would be constructed – a production facility, tasting room, and employee housing unit.

The property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road, about one and a half miles east of the Pressley Road/Sonoma Mountain Road intersection.

The Nov. 15 Board of Supervisors hearing marks the second time the panel has been asked to approve the Belden Barns Project. By a 4-1 vote in November of 2014, the board approved the project. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voted against issuing the use permit, echoing neighbors concerns about the compatibility of the project in the rural residential area.

The Friends of Sonoma Mountain soon filed a lawsuit against the county, charging that the county failed to properly evaluate the project’s environmental impacts, including potential effects on groundwater, traffic and noise.

In June of 2015, a settlement was reached, which required that a full EIR be conducted, to be paid for by the developers. The settlement set aside the board’s initial approval of the project and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” a legal term barring Friends of Sonoma Mountain from suing again on the same claims.

The settlement also allowed the Board of Supervisors to take “original jurisdiction,” a move aimed at speeding up the planning process.

A draft EIR was released earlier this year that concluded that any environmental impacts could be reduced to a “less than significant level” with mitigation measures. At a Board of Supervisors meeting in July to receive public comment on the draft EIR, a number of neighbors took issue with the report’s findings, particularly in the areas of traffic and hydrology.

The authors of the draft EIR, Larkspur-based environmental consultant Dudek, reviewed and responded to the written and oral comments on the draft EIR, and prepared a final EIR, which was released in late October. The final EIR does not change the significance of the conclusions in the draft EIR, with any changes being “minor clarifications/amplifications” of the previous analysis, changes that do not trigger the need to recirculate portions or all of the draft EIR.

Public comment on the EIR document is being taken until Nov. 7, and can be sent to Crystal Acker at the Permit and Resource Management Department,

The EIR can be downloaded at (scroll down to “Belden Barns Farmstead and Winery”).