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VJB use permit modification hearing moved to August


Major update of long-running, complicated application will take a bit longer

By Jay Gamel

“The meeting has been postponed,” was the information provided by VJB Cellars scion Henry Belmonte just before leaving the county on July 9. Originally scheduled for July 22, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) hearing, boldly announced by two large billboards at the business on Sonoma Highway in Kenwood, has been tentatively rescheduled to Aug. 26, according to Jean Kapolchok, a land use consultant for the Belmontes.

“There are many conditions of approval that we need to study,” Kapolchok noted.

The 42-page renewed use permit mitigated negative declaration (MND) has a long list what needs to be done to perfect existing uses in order to be approved without a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act. It was filed on June 8. The initial public review period for the document closed on July 8, with several letters being submitted, including at least two from the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA).

VOTMA attorney Stephan Volker’s July 7 letter regarding the project asserts the revised application legitimizes activities long considered to be outside the scope of the original application. Volker said the county also makes assumptions about levels of activity that have increased over the years VJB has been in operation.

“The County hamstrings its police powers by treating VJB’s restaurant activities as existing conditions,” Volker states in the letter, which will become part of the application comments.

Volker’s letter was directed to Sonoma County Counsel as well as the county’s project planner. A 13-page comment letter was also sent by VOTMA board member Roger Peters on behalf of the entire board. His comments expanded on Volker’s.

The August BZA hearing will be public and additional comments will be accepted.

The original 2005 permit application was approved in Oct. 2007, with a draft “Subsequent Mitigated Negative Declaration” dated Jan. 2020, a draft “Revised Subsequent MND” dated July 2020, and a draft “Second Revised Subsequent MND,” the latest iteration.

Parking and turn lanes – never built – have been long-running issues with neighbors and others, with Shaw Avenue, particularly, often lined with the cars, limos, and buses of patrons. Popular offerings at VJB Cellars include a restaurant, commercial kitchen, pizza oven and barbeque, a tasting room, a boutique clothing store, the Wine Truffle Shop, and Kenwood Pasta Co. and Country Store.

VJB Cellars acquired and paved the vacant lot at 75 Shaw Ave. for additional parking, which has reduced parking along Shaw Avenue somewhat, but all street parking will be forbidden under the revised application.

The new project will also require turn lanes, water conservation, an expanded septic system, and limits on wine tasting and restaurant capacities.

Contact Permit Sonoma planner Blake Hillegas for information and access to the application and associated documents. He can be reached at [email protected].