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News: 03/01/2011

Mayacamas building ordinance moves ahead

Citizen’s advisory group provides input

A set of building guidelines for the west slope of the Mayacamas Mountains might actually become part of the county’s code this year, after a 14-year gestation period. In a spirited discussion on the evening of Feb. 23, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) encouraged the county to pass the Mayacamas Design Guidelines.

Ig Vella, the SVCAC’s senior member, remembered being on hand when the idea was first floated in 1997. “It’s past time to get these guidelines passed,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but what is?”

The guidelines call for keeping building profiles low for those looking up from roads in the valley, calling for natural screening, muted colors, non-reflective glass, and siting decisions that will keep buildings as low profile as possible. Agricultural residential buildings will be exempt.

The members present unanimously agreed that the county should include the guidelines as a deed restriction to promote compliance, even though Sonoma County has nearly non-existent means of enforcing its codes these days.

Amy Wingfield, the planner for the county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) currently working on the ordinance, said the department had decided to drop the deed restrictions for exactly the same reason – they are practically unenforceable.

“While a new owner can be required to comply with the rules, there’s nothing to stop them or subsequent owners from repainting or other violations of the rules,” she told the committee.

Committee members, on the other hand, felt that at least putting the guidelines into a deed will put all subsequent owners on notice of what they are supposed to do.

Nancy Bacon, an environmental planner who spoke for the Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP) members who were present, encouraged the deed restrictions.

“We know that police aren’t going to show up with paint chips in their hands,” she said, “but having it in writing says it is so, that a person has to override what he knows is right. Without that, they have such an easy time. With each transgression, a new example is set.”

Commissioner Mark Bramfitt noted that all county departments are looking at 25% budget reductions next year, which will surely impact the little enforcement available now. Deed restrictions will at least educate subsequent owners of their responsibilities.

SVCAC Chairwoman Cynthia Wood, a real estate broker, said, “there’s no reason we can’t do this.”

The SMP asked for several alterations to the current guideline proposals, encouraging the use of “standards” instead of “guidelines,” the use of story poles to give perspective to new building proposals, and several technical changes for consistency and accuracy. They also called for motion switches to be installed on carriage lamps that many new homes are putting on driveways.

“They are lighting up the mountain all night, which we are trying to avoid,” Mickey Cook told the committee. Cook is a founding member of the group that was instrumental in getting the similar Sonoma Mountain/Taylor Mountain guidelines adopted seven years ago.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that the older guidelines have proved to be a success over the years in keeping new construction on both Sonoma and Taylor mountains from being obtrusive.

The group’s concern over exemptions for agricultural residential structures were considered ineffective in view of Sonoma County’s longstanding support for agricultural enterprises over residential issues.

Rather than stand separately, the Mayacamas guidelines will be appended to the Sonoma Mountain/Taylor Mountain rules.

The SVCAC was not asked to approve the proposed guidelines, so passed no resolutions. They did agree to send their recommendations to the Planning Commission, which is tentatively scheduled to consider them on April 7.


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