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News: 01/15/2018

Kenwood Vineyards' new tasting room decision continued

Commissioners request updated traffic data, visual analysis to assess impact

The decision whether to green light Kenwood Vineyard’s request for a new tasting room has been postponed, pending concerns by Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) commissioners over the accuracy of projected traffic impacts and the amount of visual screening needed to preserve the scenic nature of the view. As of press time, a new hearing date had not been set.

First District BZA Commissioner Greg Carr, who was the most vocal at the Dec. 21 meeting, recognized the amount of community outreach and neighborly negotiations undertaken by Kenwood Vineyards, but concluded that the winery’s location in a scenic corridor lined with more than six tasting rooms in less than two miles, and in light of the swirling debate over winery events, put Kenwood Vineyards “in a tough spot.” The proliferation of wine industry-related events in the county has been the subject of increased public concern over the last couple of years, pressuring county supervisors in 2016 to move toward attempting to define and address overconcentration issues in tourism hot spots like Sonoma Valley and the Dry Creek area. This effort was delayed by the October fires.

Kenwood Vineyard’s proposal asks for a use permit to build a new 4,232-square-foot tasting room to replace the existing 2,100-square-foot tasting room. The new one-story tasting room would be located further from the highway than the current tasting room, atop an existing knoll. The project also proposes a new access driveway and parking spaces, plus a total of 33 events to be held annually on the 33-acre property across from Warm Springs Road on Highway 12.

The winery, which has been in operation since 1906 and was acquired by Kenwood Vineyards in 1970, has historically held up to eight “agricultural promotional events” per year, with up to 50 guests attending. Pernod Richard, which owns a worldwide portfolio in wines and spirits, bought Kenwood Vineyards in 2014. The current application requests the approved number of events to be upped to 33, the largest capped at 500 guests.

There are 35 full-time employees at the winery currently, with future plans for 60 full-time employees. Wine production, up to 500,000 cases annually, would remain unchanged. The existing tasting room would be converted to storage and winery processing.

Kenwood Vineyard’s traffic impact study, conducted by Transpedia Consulting Engineers, concluded that the marketing and events were expected to have a “less-than-significant impact” on traffic flow on Highway 12 near Warm Springs Road, generating only 160 trips during weekday or weekend peak hours. In the vicinity of that intersection, where the winery is located, analysis concluded that the anticipated traffic level is acceptable for county roadways, according to County General Plan and traffic guidelines.

But this is exactly where Carr had a beef. “I’m frustrated because the process and the methodology the county requires are not adequate,” said Carr. “Not that there isn’t a good-faith effort being made by the applicant. It’s that the methodology is not there.”

According to Roger Peters, a member of Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), who also spoke out in criticism of Kenwood Vineyards’ traffic study, the travel models used by the county’s transit authority are out of date (from 2013) and are based on mid-week data only (Tuesday through Thursday), which doesn’t paint a clear picture of weekend traffic, when many wineries, including Kenwood Vineyards, expect to be busiest.

Also, VOTMA would like daily tasting room traffic be taken into account, in addition to traffic from the requested special events.

“From VOTMA’s perspective, focusing on the impacts of the 33 events [Kenwood Vineyards] is requesting (resulting in some 6,000 visitors total per year) seems kind of silly when every day the KV tasting room and pairing activities are generating as many visitors as any event would,” said Peters in an email. According to Kenwood Vineyards, the new tasting room is expected to draw up to 199 visitors daily on weekdays (up from the current 55 visitors) and up to 438 visitors during a weekend day (up from 121 current visitors).

“I want to see a traffic study where all events and winery traffic are taken into account,” said Carr at the meeting.

An updated traffic study for the Sonoma Valley area was completed in summer 2017 and is under review by the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. Deputy Director Jennifer Barrett confirmed after the BZA meeting that the new Sonoma Valley count data has been shared with Kenwood Vineyards’ traffic consultant, who may use that updated data to refine its current traffic analysis for Kenwood Vineyards.

The other issue Kenwood Vineyards will be asked to address at a future hearing is the adequacy of its landscaping design to reduce the visual impact of the new tasting room, as it sits within a county-designated scenic corridor. According to the application, the new tasting room will have a modern design, incorporating use of steel, glass, and concrete along with a green “living” roof that will help blend the building into the surrounding landscape. The landscape design would preserve existing site features, topography, and large oak trees. The County’s Design Review Committee found the project’s design compatible with the site and its surroundings in 2016.

Jo-Anna Partridge, vice president of operations for Pernod Richard, said Kenwood Vineyards continues to “engage with and seek and respond to feedback of community.” Concerns that were raised resulted in modification, she said. Partridge recently relocated from New Zealand to Bennett Valley when she took the position in early 2017.

After receiving feedback from the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission and discussions with neighbors like the Kinnybrook Homeowners Association, Kenwood Vineyards scaled back its original request and modified some of its design, including reducing the tasting room footprint by 20 percent, reducing the number of annual requested events from 60 to 33, limiting the number of events with amplified sound, creating alternative parking for buses and limos on site, away from the new tasting room parking lot, and adding additional landscaping to further screen the view of the new tasting room parking lot from Kinnybrook neighbors. Kinnybrook is located directly east of Kenwood Vineyards.

At the meeting, Third District Commissioner Komron Shahhosseini pointed out that the project is an expansion of a current facility that already exists within the scenic landscape corridor and a manmade facility (a water tank) already exists on knoll in question. “We are just looking at the incremental change that expansion will produce,” he said.

Nevertheless, the commissioners agreed 4-0 (with Chair Cameron Mauritson recused) that seeing a visual assessment of the sightline impacts of the new tasting room, in addition to a more refined traffic study, was necessary before moving forward.

“The County has requested that Kenwood Vineyards conduct further due diligence before making a decision. We will complete the requested actions in upcoming weeks and submit the results to the County Planning Department accordingly,” said Partridge.

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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