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News: 03/01/2016

Hunt club, tasting room deemed OK by advisory body

Bigger tasting room and large clubhouse plans raise some concerns

The new owners of Kenwood Winery – Pernod Ricard – and the old owners of the Kenwood BPSC Hunt Club, presented their proposals to modify their existing businesses to the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission on Feb. 24, as the first step in the process of getting approval.

While the Commissioners finally approved both projects, they expressed a variety of concerns over the scale and impacts the projects may have on either neighbors or sensitive wetlands.

Kenwood Hunt Club

Bill Hooper, president of Kenwood Investments, presented the case for building a 17,300-square-foot clubhouse on the club’s 837-acre property across from Sears Point. The clubhouse would be two-story, raising the main floor 12 feet off the sometimes-below sea level property. The clubhouse, mostly stone and wood, would serve the club’s 500 members with a dining room and full bar, along with a pro shop, locker room and a small conference room that could be used by members or for training.

The club would also build a fly casting pond serviced by two wells and storm water runoff, according to Hooper, responding to questions about water use from Commissioners. There would also be dog kennels and bird pens to house the farmed pheasants and chucker partridges released for hunting. A single 85-foot shooting tower would be built, replacing the three proposed earlier. Hooper noted that a similar PG&E tower nearby is 250 feet tall, and that the club’s tower would be set well off the visual line of traffic.

Several commissioners, including Margaret Spaulding and Gini Dunlap, the North Valley representatives on the Commission, think the large clubhouse and extended operations amount to a significant impact on the property and feel the Permit Resource and Management Department (PRMD) should seriously consider calling for an Environmental Impact Report to evaluate those impacts, which include late operation, noise, night lighting, and increased use.

Spaulding raised the issue of incremental use permits, where applicants raise the use intensity over a period of years, starting with low impacts and adding uses later that when examined without context, do not raise the same impact issues as the total project might have at the beginning of the application process. While not specific to the hunt club application, it is an example of the process which she feels has led to serious consequences for the Sonoma Valley as a whole, impacting traffic and quality of life issues.

Kenwood Investment’s first use permit was issued in 2012 covering the existing buildings and peripheral operations, almost all of which were held during daylight hours. The new permit would allow operations until 9 p.m.

Commissioner Thomas Martin and others questioned the safety of entering and leaving the club, but most were satisfied that traffic was not a serious problem, especially after Hooper assured the Commission that no events were planned at the private club. Hooper pointed out after the hearing that the clubhouse design is not suited for events, but for servicing the private membership, which he said has remained constant for nearly 50 years through several iterations of club ownership.

Kenwood Vineyards

Venerable Kenwood Vineyards, possibly the first of the modern vineyard and winery operations in the North Sonoma Valley, is getting a makeover and update from its new owner, Pernod Ricard, one of the biggest wine and spirit companies in the world, both producing and distributing their products. Along with a new logo recently installed at the front gate, the company wants to replace its old barn tasting room with a modern, 5,300-square-foot building away from the operations area, on the northeast side of the property.

Along with more room, the new building will contain a kitchen and dining area for 20 people to have an appointment-only food and wine pairing experience three times a day, up to seven days a week. They are also asking for 22 events a year and event hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. When Kenwood Vineyards was first issued a use permit in 2001, no events were specified, although annual events have been hosted since even before that time.

The new building would face south, be partially cut into the hill and be serviced by a separate driveway, beginning just after the Kinneybrook entrance. It would be built of concrete, glass and metal walls and perhaps have a green roof, with an expansive outdoor patio to enjoy the view. They are requesting the use of amplified music, as well.

While no one disputes the need for an updated tasting room, the size, construction and location of the new tasting room have raised hackles at the nearby Kinneybrook subdivision.

While they enjoy cordial relations, according to everyone who spoke, neighbors are wary of sound and light intrusions coming from the new tasting room located much nearer to their homes.

Chris Koch lives closest to the proposed site and represented the Kinneybrook Homeowners Association (KHA) when he opposed any amplified music at the site.

“This new facility will be heard and seen,” Koch told the commissioners. “They are increasing the number of people from 24,000 to 52,000 a year, and that’s for operating hours.” He asked that lighting be tempered to not shine upward and to be turned off after events.

He also targeted the new 43-space parking lot as a new source of sound.

“Car doors slamming, loud conversations, and car alarms,” are all noises associated with parking lots. “And sound travels uphill.”

The tasting room will also be constructed of highly sound reflective materials: concrete, glass and steel.

Commissioner Spaulding felt that three sit-down pairings a day for seven days a week may be more than county rules permit, but asked that PRMD thoroughly examine the food service component of the application.

Both Kathy Pons, speaking for the Valley of the Moon Alliance, and Roger Peters, a Hoff Road resident, took issue with the increase in visitors expected from the tasting room expansion.

Acknowledging that small operations often rely on visitors to maintain economic viability, he said no such reason applies at Kenwood Vineyards given the size and success of the owners.

“There are too many people on too few roads for too many wineries,” Peters said, summarizing a growing sentiment that the wine industry is overwhelming rural Sonoma with traffic and tasting rooms, Kenwood in particular.

Jeremy Wright, vice president of operations at the winery said that the requests are reasonable.

“How much is enough is a question we can’t answer,” he said. “But we feel the number of events are in keeping with the Valley and are not outrageous. We are a premium business and feel it’s important to have a premium estate.”

The Commissioners voted 9-2 to support the application with the caveat that sound and light issues be examined carefully. Both Saunders and Dunlap voted against that motion.


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