Kenwood Press

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News: 11/01/2014

Supes approve Sonoma Mt. Road winery, creamery

Over the objections of many neighbors, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the first winery open to the public on Sonoma Mt. Road.

The vote at the board’s Oct. 14 meeting was 4-1, with First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voting against the Belden Barns Winery and Cheese Creamery project.

The project, on 55 acres zoned Land Intensive Agriculture (LIA), includes a 10,000-case-per-year winery, a creamery producing 10,000 pounds of cheese per year, retail sales, tasting by appointment only, and up to 10 events (five with up to 60 people, three with up to 100, and two with up to 200). The property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mt. Road.

The Belden project was approved unanimously by the Board of Zoning Adjustments in March, and neighbors appealed that decision, which left the matter up to the Board of Supervisors to decide.

Neighbors submitted the names of over 140 residents in the Sonoma Mt. Road and Bennett Valley area who were opposed to the proposal.

Of primary concern was the impact of increased traffic on 7.5-mile, hilly Sonoma Mt. Road, which in many places is winding, narrow, and in poor shape. Neighbors were also worried about the potential for increased commercialization of the rural area, fearful that the Belden Barns project was just the beginning.

“It’s not just a winery, an event center, an event center on one of the worst roads in all of Sonoma County,” said Donna Parker, a Sonoma Mt. Road resident. She warned that approval would set a “highly dangerous precedent” for the area, and would encourage other rural properties with vineyards to follow suit.

At the Oct. 14 hearing, property owner Nate Belden said his goal is to run a small family farm business that involves making wine, primarily from vineyards on site, cheese-making, and the growing of fruits and vegetables for sale.

Belden said that in order to make the farm and winery financially viable, it’s necessary to sell products directly to the consumer and have a tasting room open to the public. He said that the scale of the project is small, and would not have the negative impacts on the Sonoma Mt. Road area that opponents fear.

“We take being good stewards of the land seriously. We take being good neighbors seriously,” said Belden, who will live on the property with his family.

Supporters of the project included county farm and agriculture groups such as Sonoma County Farm Trails and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

At the hearing, opponents took issue with many aspects of the project, and challenged what they said were faulty water, geologic, and traffic studies. They also brought up the issues of road safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and potential noise impacts.

“We’re not saying that you should say no to farming or no to a family business,” said Sonoma Mt. Road resident Amy Rodney. “What we’re asking you to do is say not here. We’re asking you to say that this project, as nice as it is, as well intentioned it might be, is not in the appropriate location.”

The majority of the board of supervisors came down on the side of Belden Barns, praising the diverse nature of the agricultural operation, concluding that the project was sized appropriately, and that the conditions put on the project will diminish the impacts.

“When you look at the 103 modifications on a 10,000 case winery,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, “This is really a low level (project) when it comes to size and magnitude.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin was the lone vote against approving the project, concerned about the compatibility with the surrounding area, as well road issues and the amount of people allowed at some of the events.

“If this was in any other location, it would be marvelous and I’d be the first to sign up,” said Gorin. “But I am really challenged… I would have liked to have seen something much less in scale.”

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