Kenwood Press

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News: 07/01/2016

VJB files another use permit revision request, offers parking solution

VJB Vineyards and Cellars in Kenwood has filed further revisions to their request to modify their use permit, including the offer of a potential new solution to the business’ ongoing parking issues.

For the past few years, residents in the neighborhood of the 60 Shaw Ave. business have been frustrated by the number of cars and tourist vehicles VJB attracts, parking on the narrow residential streets because VJB’s parking lot isn’t big enough.

The problem is exacerbated, especially in tourist season, by vehicles generated by three other businesses in the same area, one restaurant and two other tasting rooms.

In the latest application revision filed in May, VJB, owned by the Belmonte family, proposes to build a 35-space parking lot a few parcels down and across the street, at the corner of Shaw and Clyde avenues where a 119-year-old historically significant house recently had to be demolished due to earthquake damage from the 2014 Napa earthquake. The parcel is currently vacant.

The proposed parking lot would be used exclusively by VJB, according to the most recent proposal.

The property is zoned residential. The owners, the Figliolini family, told the county’s Landmark Commission a year ago that they planned to build a new house and use some of the historic stones and other original materials to build a low rock perimeter wall and stone benches on the site. A publicly visible plaque would be built, noting the original significance of the former structure, and its original well-known builder, Peter Maroni.

In order to turn the property into a commercial parking lot, VJB would have to get it rezoned to a commercial designation, as well as obtain a General Plan Amendment.

Some of the parcels immediately surrounding the Figliolini property are zoned residential, the Verizon building is on one adjacent parcel, and Shaw Park is across the street on one side. In a submitted drawing of the proposed parking lot the entrance is from Clyde Avenue.

VJB also has an agreement with Kenwood dentist Keith Boxerman to use his small lot, located a short walk away from VJB, for employee parking on weekends and holidays. VJB has also said it will add 19 spaces to its current lot by taking out part of a vineyard. Tourist buses and vans would be directed to park at the Wellington Vineyards property in Glen Ellen, a 24-acre parcel, which VJB purchased in 2014.

Also in the latest revision is a proposal to change VJB’s hours of operation, currently 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from May 1 through Oct. 31.

In addition to parking issues, VJB and county planners have been going back and forth for some years now over exactly what road improvements are required for the business, including the original condition requiring a left-turn lane from the highway into Shaw Avenue.

VJB has maintained that the left turn lane would require the movement of at least six power poles, that there isn’t enough Caltrans right of way to do the work, and that any relocation of utilities out of that right of way would have to go on adjoining private property. The left turn lane would require that VJB obtain additional rights of way from the property owners, which VJB says it doesn’t have the “authority or power” to accomplish.

In its latest proposal VJB is offering, as a substitute for the left turn lane, that the highway shoulders be widened 100 feet north and south of Shaw Ave. to allow highway through traffic to pass on the shoulder when left turn stacking occurs.

Another ongoing issue between county planners and VJB has been what exactly the level of food service there can be. VJB would like the county to recognize the existing eating areas as well as an outdoor commercial kitchen currently used for making pizza and barbecue.

The latest requests by VJB have prompted the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), a community group following development issues, to issue a statement.

It reads, “VJB’s existing activities already exceed the permitted use. Their latest proposal is to expand the time of operations and the types of activities allowed. In addition they propose to convert an existing residential parcel a block away into a 35 car commercial parking lot. VOTMA believes that VJB should be restricted to the permitted uses currently allowed, and that the health and safety of the public should not be sacrificed to accommodate their desired expanded business plan. Any violations of current permitted use should be promptly addressed by Sonoma County through appropriate enforcement procedures.”

In response, VJB said that they have responded to all requests for information from county planners in a timely basis and will continue to do so.

“To date a total of +50 additional off-street parking spaces are being offered to alleviate existing parking and circulation conditions in the area, many not attributable to VJB, as well as a significant safety improvement on State Highway 12,” VJB wrote in a statement. “Although there has been a claim otherwise, there are no uses on the property that have not been granted by Use Permit and Building Inspection permit. Furthermore, all neighbors on Shaw Avenue have submitted letters of support.”

County planners have scheduled the Board of Zoning Adjustments to hear the use permit modification request for Sept. 1.

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