Defining winery guidelines still on county’s radar
There’s been a lot to deal with the last couple of years for the county’s planning department, Permit Sonoma.
Fires, floods, affordable housing crises, land use and development plans for specific neighborhoods, zoning code updates, new vacation rental rules, numerous cannabis related regulations – the list is long.
Combine all that with Permit Sonoma’s limited resources and recent high staff turnover, and you have the recipe for relatively slow progress on some issues.
One of those issues is the well over 10 years of off-and-on discussions involving the development of new regulations and guidelines for winery activities, such as events, food service, and tasting rooms, as well as rules involving areas of potential winery overconcentration.
Numerous meetings between industry groups, community organizations, the Board of Supervisors, and county staff have taken place over the years, with limited tangible results.
All parties at one time or another have expressed an interest in having clear rules and definitions when it comes to approving permits for wineries and wine-related activities. Especially eager for something concrete are the county’s commissioners on the Board of Zoning Adjustments and Planning Commission, who often have the final say in approving permits and land use proposals.
A recent Feb. 28 meeting of planning officials indicated the winery issues are still on a priority list for Permit Sonoma. Department staff is developing a Work Plan to present to the Board of Supervisors in April, which includes winery events.
Other items on the proposed Work Plan include continued efforts to rezone parcels to allow more housing, updating the development code, and preparing an update to the General Plan, the county’s land use policy bible.
Newer priority items to be discussed with the Board of Supervisors include planning efforts for the now-shuttered Sonoma Developmental Center and it’s 900-plus acres.
Work on winery-related issues was making some progress back in the fall of 2016, when the board of supervisors directed planning staff to develop winery standards and siting criteria for areas of potential high concentration, such as the Dry Creek Valley, Westside Road, and Sonoma Valley.
The board’s “Resolution of Intention” authorizing the planning department work, also directed staff to clarify the definition of “events,” and to complete traffic and noise studies that had already been started for the Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley areas.
Work continued in 2017, with planning staff even developing internal drafts regarding winery event definitions, tasting room siting criteria, and food service guidelines.
Ideas being considered by staff at the time included such things as minimum parcel sizes for tasting rooms, enhanced code enforcement, annual review of permits, and more specific winery use permit guidelines, such as requiring marketing plans.
But everything was eventually put on hold because of the October 2017 wildfires, and the county is still trying to recover.
First District Supervisor Susan Gorin had convened a Sonoma Valley stakeholder group of neighborhood representatives and the wine industry in 2017 pre fire, and she said they were moving towards a “level of agreement” on event definitions, impacts, traffic and what constituted over-concentration.
“It is time to restart our discussions in Sonoma Valley as more winery/events are moving through the approval process,” said Gorin. “This is important for the future of Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County.”
Gorin said she plans on reconvening the Sonoma Valley stakeholder group within the next few months with the aim of holding a community meeting in the early summer to develop recommendations that can be presented to the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, a body that in turn gives recommendations to the county’s formal decision-making bodies.
The county planner in charge of the winery/event project, Georgia McDaniel, said the traffic studies for Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek will be released later, after which there will be public workshops held in both areas.
Kathy Pons, Kenwood resident and president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance, attended the Feb. 28 meeting with planning officials. Speaking for herself, she said she understood the county’s focus on fires, floods, and housing, but expressed an overall frustration at the years-long slow pace of developing new rules for the expanding number of events at wineries.
“I hope that events on agriculturally zoned lands are limited, and growing crops – real agriculture – remains the primary purpose on ag lands,” said Pons. “I also hope that this concept does not take root with other productions, such as distilleries, breweries, and cannabis.”
“The industry sure isn’t in a hurry to get anything done to collect data on events, or monitoring. They don’t think there is a problem.”
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