The Kenwood Press
News: 01/15/2017

Lawsuit filed on Belden Barns project

Alec Peters

A neighborhood group, Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road, filed a lawsuit in December challenging the county’s approval of the Belden Barns project, a winery and cheese making facility on Sonoma Mountain Road.

The suit questions the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the county’s Board of Supervisors certified at a Nov. 15, 2016, meeting. The EIR concluded that any environmental impacts of the project could be mitigated to a “less than significant” level.

In particular, the lawsuit alleges that there was faulty analysis of the project’s biological, traffic, hydrology, land use, and noise impacts.

At the Nov. 15 board meeting, the EIR and the project itself was approved by a 4-1 vote, with First District Supervisor Susan Gorin dissenting, arguing that while the project was well designed, it didn’t belong on Sonoma Mountain Road, often considered one of the worst roads in the county.

The Belden Barns development would be the first commercial venture of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 55-acre site about 1.5 miles east of Pressley Road.

The majority of the supervisors said the EIR was thorough, that they considered the project small, and that it would have minimal impacts on neighbors and the environment. The project envisions a 10,000-case winery, 10,000-pound cheese making facility, with retail sales, tasting by appointment, and up to eight agricultural promotional events with 60 to 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.

In 2014 when the supervisors first approved the project, Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road sued, charging that the environmental analysis done for the project at that time was deficient, and that a full-blown EIR was needed.

The case settled in the summer of 2015. The settlement rescinded the supervisors’ approval and required that an EIR be performed by an outside environmental consultant. The final EIR was released last fall.

Regarding the new litigation, Nate Belden, who owns the property along with this wife, Lauren, said, “The County scrutinized the environmental impacts of our very small, family owned, diversified farm, tasting room (for cheese, wine and other agricultural products grown on the site), winery, micro-creamery, and eight small agricultural promotional events per year. We are confident a court will find that the County’s rigorous analysis complied with the law.”