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Glen Ellen Inn changes supported by SVCAC


Questions raised about possible long-term effects of zoning change needed

By Jay Gamel

Chris and Karen Bertrand are ready to take their iconic Glen Ellen Inn and restaurant business to a quieter, less demanding level. They were given a lot of support from the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission on July 28, though one commissioner expressed major concern over the possible long-term effects of the rezoning required.

The Bertands seek to convert their dining room into two new guest rooms with a new check-in and lounge area, and add another guest room to a building in back. The couple want to keep their tiny bar in operation to serve friends, guests, and the general public.

“We want to keep the bar as a social space,” Chris told the commissioners when asked why they were keeping it.

The operation now takes place on two parcels, one zoned for visitor serving (K) and the other for limited commercial (LC) operations. The proposed changes require amending the Sonoma County General Plan to allow a voluntary merger of the two parcels and make them both K zoning.

Chris summed up the advantages of the proposed changes: less traffic on the site, fewer commercial trips a day to service the restaurant, more hotel rooms for tourists to visit downtown, less water usage, and a permeable cover in the parking lot to improve groundwater recapture.

Commissioner Matt Dickey was the sole “no” vote on the project, expressing concern about the possible long-term implications of converting the limited commercial zoning to visitor serving. The Bertrands have been doing business there for more than 30 years and there is nothing in the application that would constrain future owners from fully exercising all the benefits and possibilities associated with K zoning.

Dickey observed that the limited commercial zoning does not allow hotel rooms, but does allow restaurants. K zoning allows both.

“I’m concerned about the rule of unintended consequences,’” Dickey said. “I support Chis and Karen’s desire to downsize their business activity. My concern is what happens when they move on and sell.”

Other commissioners did not feel the potential problems outweighed the current proposal.

“This is a total win-win for the village,” Alternate Commissioner Steve Mullin said. “They keep the property, get cars off the road, and add more rooms. It’s a great use and better than selling.”

Commissioner Margaret Spaulding was “disappointed and sad at this change, but I have to support the owners’ intentions. It will no longer be a local place; it’s going to be for tourists and visitors. We’ve had a lot of fun there.”

Commissioner Joanne Brown summed up the consensus: “It’s hard to look into the future. It’s really important to keep that perspective in mind. I don’t think the potentiality of someone buying it and making it … a nuisance is reasonable. If we had some reason to believe, or know of some nuisance, then maybe. There’s nothing in this proposal to support that.”

The issue will come before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in the near future for final approval.