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News: 06/15/2014

Ledson files revisions to Kenwood winery plan

Two years ago, Steve Ledson proposed a 50,000 case winery with public tasting and events at the site of old walnut groves off of Sonoma Hwy. between Frey and Lawndale roads, a project that prompted vocal protests from neighbors.

Ledson said he would make revisions, which he eventually filed with county planners in early June, but immediate reactions from some neighbors who looked at the changes still point to a protracted battle over the project.

“We remain opposed to the project in its entirety,” said Frey Road neighbors Robert and Linda Solomon, who said that having such a commercial facility and everything that comes with it does not fit with the rural residential character of the area. The Frey Road neighborhood consists of 17 residences.

Ledson, though, said he has reduced the size of some of the facilities, and is now proposing to have the main public and wine production entrance off of Sonoma Hwy. and not on Frey Road as originally proposed, though there still would be an access off of Frey Road, as well as Lawndale Road, for vineyard operations.

Ledson said that an entrance off of Sonoma Hwy. still needs to be looked at and evaluated by CalTrans.

Ledson bought the approximately 25 acres back in 2009, which at the time was covered with walnut trees and had been owned by his late relatives, Cliff and Adeline Rich. The proposed winery would be called the William Cunningham Winery, named after Ledson’s great grandfather, who originally bought the ranch in 1919.

The walnut groves were torn out, much to the dismay of locals who had enjoyed the iconic Kenwood view for decades. But Ledson said the orchards had been infected by nematodes, and began a remediation process to improve the soil. Ledson said he hopes to start planting vineyards with disease-tolerant root stock by 2016. According to the latest filing with the county, Ledson is proposing to eventually plant about 16 acres in vineyard, representing 34,403 vines.

An architect’s rendering of the tasting room building in Steve Ledson’s proposal for a new winery and production facility, called William Cunningham Winery, which would be on property adjacent to Frey Rd. in Kenwood.
A public tasting room is proposed on an eight-acre parcel, along with two production buildings designed as barns. Ledson said the production facility would also process grapes from some of his other vineyards.

The project would be developed in two phases, with the first phase being the winery production barns and vineyard planting, and the second being the 9,200-square-foot tasting room. According to the recent filing with county planners, the roof ridge would reach 42 feet on all three buildings.

The first floor of the tasting room would also have a marketplace with a deli. The second floor would be used, in part, for private tastings and administrative activities. Twenty-four special events are also part of the proposal.

Ledson said his goal is to design the facility to look like it belonged in an older era of Sonoma Valley.

“We want to do something nice for the community,” said Ledson.

The use permit request for the development will now start winding its way through the county planning process, with the application being referred out for comment to various government departments. A public hearing on the use permit will eventually be scheduled in front of the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Earlier this year in April, neighbors and others in the community submitted a petition to the county with 233 signatures demanding that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be done on any project, citing potential noise, traffic, lighting, and water issues. County planners will determine if an EIR is necessary.

Opponents, as well as county planners, have noted that the property falls within a county-designated Community Separator between Oakmont and Kenwood, and that design and scale of the project may not fit with the rural character of the area.

Ledson said he feels the project is modest and reflects the rural look and feel of the valley, and that it, “keeps the property in agriculture and keeps it like it’s looked like the last 100 years.”

Neighbors E.J. and Pam McVey disagree.

“This commercial project belongs in Disneyland, not in Sonoma Valley,” the couple said, “We feel the long-term impact of a winery and commercial business of this scale is going to have a detrimental effect on our neighborhood and the Community Separator in Sonoma Valley.”

The dispute over the Ledson project is reflective of the concerns from some in the community about the encroachment of development reaching from Kenwood to Santa Rosa.

Right across the street from the proposed William Cunningham Winery site is the yet to be built Sonoma Country Inn/La Campagna Resort with its approved 10,000 case winery, 11 home sites, and 50-room inn. Further up the highway between Pythian Road and Melita Road, three potential wineries have approved use permits. In addition, a plan to build Elnoka Village, a 479-unit Continuing Care Retirement Community, will be reviewed by the city of Santa Rosa sometime this year. The project is located near Melita Road off of Sonoma Hwy.

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