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VOTMA appeals Kenwood Ranch

Community group concerned that burnt trees alter conditions of approval

By Chris Rooney

When wildfires ravaged Sonoma Valley over recent years, they changed the landscape for years to come. In the case of the Kenwood Ranch (KR) resort project, some think the landscape has been so altered by the loss of trees due to fire that county officials should revisit some permits.

On May 23, the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) issued an appeal to Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, because the wooded landscape screening the Highway 12 project has been seriously altered.

“VOTMA was formed around this major project,” said Kathy Pons, the group’s president. “We want to keep it to being the best project for the community that it can [be].”

“No arborist’s report or other factual evidence has been submitted since the Glass Fire to indicate either the full extent of the destruction of the trees intended to provide the screening to Highway 12, or the extent to which the screening required to be maintained still could exist after the Glass Fire,” the appeal reads. “Preservation of the forested area around the KR Project site was the key component on which maintaining the required screening of the project site relied. That screening was destroyed in the Glass Fire of 2020. KR appears to have already removed some trees and will undoubtedly continue to remove trees that were killed or damaged by the fire from the forested area and the project building site.”

Developer Chuck Conner was unaware of the appeal when reached May 24, and requests for comment from Permit Sonoma specific to the appeal have not been heeded.

In an email, Sonoma Permit Policy Manager Bradley Dunn wrote, “The Kenwood Ranch is an approved project. Staff is currently working on ensuring that the project and its sponsors are complying with the conditions of approval.”

VOTMA states that county officials did not fully take into consideration how significant an impact the Glass Fire made on the project. Specifically, the loss of trees leaves the project more visible to both local residents and visitors driving along Highway 12. Tress also serve as noise suppressors.

Kenwood Ranch is comprised of 52 acres across numerous parcels of land on Campagna Lane east of Highway 12, near Lawndale Road. The project includes construction of a winery (10,000 cases a year), tasting room, and event center (20 per year).

The appeal addresses the lost trees directly: “The visual, aesthetic and lighting, screening assumptions and conditions — and their purposes — that were foundational to the 2018 Board of Supervisors … approving the revised Project design must still be respected and honored. The forest surrounding the Project building site that is now devastated was determined in 2018 to still provide adequate screening that allowed this Project to be permitted in the middle of a scenic corridor. The view passing by the KR Project site along Highway 12 today, after the Glass Fire, of the forested screening area leading up to the Project site reveals the surrounding forest dead and dying and significantly damaged, if not destroyed. As a result, the KR inn/ spa/restaurant resort facility is almost certainly to be prominently visible from the Sonoma Valley along Highway 12, and will constitute a stark contrast that will be out of harmony with the remainder of the Hood Mountain corridor area. That was never supposed to happen.”

VOTMA member Roger Peters, the appeal signatory, concluded with, “We await the opportunity for a hearing on this matter.”