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MARCH 1, 2022 - Development projects slowly progressing

Uncertainty clouds the future of developments
Development projects slowly progressing
The building that used to house Café Citti is one of many projects under construction in the valley.Photo by Paul Goguen

MARCH 1, 2022

By Chris Rooney

Any devotee of scary movies will tell you that it’s all in the anticipation: Not knowing when disaster will strike keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Such is the case with a number of local land and property developments that have drawn plenty of attention in the past but are currently lurking in the background. The Kenwood Press went to officials from both Sonoma County and the City of Santa Rosa to find out if any action is imminent on a few projects.

Projects in the village

Two structures, one faring much better than the other, are perched on Highway 12 in Kenwood.

Luca and Linda Citti announced near the end of 2020 that they were shuttering their popular Café Citti restaurant, and leaving Sonoma Valley after a 30-year run, for a mostly take-out operation in Santa Rosa. COVID-19 and fires were mostly to blame. The restaurant, once featured by TV chef Guy Fieri, now sits vacant. And it’s not an attractive site.

What’s happening with the shell of the one-time popular eatery? “We are waiting for a response to our plan check comments,” reported Bradley Dunn, policy manager for Permit Sonoma.

Right next door, and sharing a tight parking lot with the former Café Citti, is VJB Cellars, a tasting room that also offers food and gelato. Some neighbors have raised concerns about traffic generated currently, but there are plans afoot to expand the operation. It’s been reported that planning officials have questioned the operation’s level of food service, suggesting the business should have been subject to the parking regulations of a restaurant. VJB’s request states that it will increase its on-site parking from 36 to 60 spots, which will necessitate removal of some of the vineyard it has on the property. VJB is also requesting the county allow service of barbecued food and pizza for consumption at outdoor tables.

Where does this one stand? “[County] staff is still working on the draft conditions for the permit,” said Dunn. “We expect there to be a hearing in the spring.”

Henry Belmonte, whose family owns both projects, said he is among the many wishing the process was a bit quicker. “I know things have been slow. If I could expedite them, I would,” he said.

Belmonte said a building permit is in progress but he is awaiting response from county officials. “They need to finish it,” he said, adding that COVID-19 has slowed a lot of governmental agencies. He said his family got the green light to purchase the property (for expansion) four years ago but they have not been able to utilize it to mitigate traffic concerns. “We’re waiting to, essentially, be on the same page,” Belmonte said.

While he couldn’t confirm the plan, Belmonte suggested the former Café Citti should once again house a restaurant, as it has a long history of providing food to the community. Elnoka Village

The Elnoka Village condominium project has been debated and discussed for more than 15 years. Planned to be erected east of Melita Road on a 9-acre parcel off Sonoma Highway, the project may end up housing about 200 people. While plans continue to evolve, the Village initially included three buildings, one of which would house 192 one- to three-bedroom condominiums. A mixed-use building would be made up of six living units, as well as 5,000 square feet of commercial space, with anticipated uses being a restaurant, deli, or beauty salon. The third building would consist of five three-bedroom townhouses.

The housing units would be available for people of all ages, including families.

Aegis Senior Living, the developer, owns 60 acres and has plans in the future to build senior-oriented housing and facilities on the back portion of the property.

Both the Oakmont Village Association (OVA) and residents along Melita Road have been weighing in on the project.

Where does it stand? “We are still in the process of preparing the final EIR [environmental impact report] and reviewing their tentative map request,” said Kristinae Toomians, senior planner for the Santa Rosa Planning and Economic Development Department “We are preparing responses to the over 800 comments on the draft EIR. Eventually we will schedule this item for Planning Commission and City Council for review and adoption of the EIR.”

Calls to Steve McCullagh, the OVA’s point person for this project, have not been returned, nor have requests to Oakmont Village for other sources close to the project.

Kenwood Ranch

Kenwood Ranch, formerly known as the Sonoma County Inn, is planned for 52 acres across more than a dozen parcels on Campagna Lane off Sonoma Highway, near Lawndale Road. A fairly ambitious project, it would entail a winery (10,000 cases a year), tasting room, and event center (20 per year). Event venues are a constant discussion, as they boost tourism, the region’s lifeblood, but become tedious to locals due to traffic and noise.

Where does Kenwood Ranch stand? “The application is currently in progress,” said Dunn. “We’re getting referrals from other agencies for different components of design.”

Dunn said the project will endure design review hearings, environmental reviews, and a review by the county public works department. He said the involved departments must perform due diligence. “It will take a little bit of time,” he said.

“There is not much new to report,” said Chuck Conner, the project manager.

A grading permit for the project was received on Aug. 11, 2021. “Under that grading permit, we continue to prepare the building site,” Conner said. “Kenwood is still working through the county process with building permits. We won’t speculate on any timelines for completion of the construction until we receive all required permits for construction.”

In an email, he wrote that Kenwood Ranch submitted the Design Review application for the winery on December 23, 2021. “We are working to respond to county comments to complete the application submittal. The timeline for moving design review forward is entirely defined by the county once the application is deemed complete.”