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News: 12/01/2014

Lawsuit filed over Sonoma Mountain Road winery/creamery



Neighbors opposed to the county’s approval of a use permit for a public winery and creamery on Sonoma Mountain Road have gone to court alleging that the county failed to properly evaluate the project’s environmental impacts.

The suit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Nov. 13 by Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road, and various neighbors of the Belden Barns project.

In October, the Board of Supervisors gave the nod to Belden Barns Winery and Creamery, a 10,000 case per year winery, and 10,000 pounds of cheese per year creamery. Also approved were tasting by appointment, retail sales, and up to 10 events (five with up to 60 people, three with up to 100, and two with up to 200). The 55-acre parcel is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road.

The board vote was 4-1, with First District Supervisor Susan Gorin opposed, raising issues about the project’s compatibility with the rural area and expressing concerns about the project’s impact on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile stretch that in some places is winding, narrow and in disrepair.

Opponents of the project had gathered the names of over 140 residents in the Sonoma Mountain Road and Bennett Valley area, encouraging denial of the project.

During the Board of Supervisors hearing, much of the debate centered around disputes over environmental studies conducted for the project.

In the lawsuit, Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road alleged a number of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s environmental law.

According to the lawsuit, county approval of the project was made despite, “substantial evidence in the record that the Project may cause a significant impact on the environment; including, but not limited to, groundwater impacts, traffic impacts, traffic safety impacts, noise impacts, visual impacts, general and area plan inconsistency, and cumulative impacts.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order that a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be done.

Deputy County Counsel Jeff Brax said his office is reviewing the suit and preparing a defense.

“We feel the Board and the county followed all the proper procedures and fully considered all the points raised by the parties and all the commenters,” said Brax.

Nate Belden, the Belden Barns property owner, also said he is readying a defense and disagreed that the project and its approval was an abuse of CEQA.

“I don’t think this (lawsuit) meets the spirit of what CEQA attempts to address,” said Belden. “We’ll just have to see how this plays out.”

Amy Rodney, a member of Friends of Sonoma Mountain Road and a Belden Barns neighbor, said that the reports for Belden Barn were faulty and deficient, particularly the traffic and water studies.

“We are asking for fuller reports to see the impact of the project, and we feel we don’t know that yet,” said Rodney.


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