Dispensary doesn’t fit with Kenwood’s character
By Chris Koch, Kenwood resident
Kenwood is a lovely small town. The Kenwood Village site is being proposed as a cannabis dispensary, not for the small population here, but because it’s on Highway 12, with thousands of cars passing per day. The City of Sonoma has restricted cannabis dispensaries to one, and Oakmont has opposed them so that there are none there. The applicant explained at its open house on August 21 that they see this Kenwood site as allowing them to tap the market of: 1) people living in Sonoma and the southern part of the valley, 2) the considerable number of Sonoma Valley wine tourists, and 3) east Santa Rosa and Oakmont. They are likely to attract hundreds of customers per day.
Kenwood Character: First, there’s irony that Sonoma and Oakmont can restrict cannabis dispensaries; but, Kenwood, being part of unincorporated Sonoma Valley, cannot ban a dispensary designed, in substantial part, to meet the market demand of communities that have restricted dispensaries.
Second, the applicant stated that they plan to market to the large wine tourist trade in the Valley. Kenwood Village surely doesn’t need to become a cannabis mecca for tourists. We presently have 18 winery tasting rooms, proposals for more tasting rooms, VJB operating inconsistently with its use permit with no county sanction, tourists parking in neighborhoods, weddings and winery events, tasting rooms with outdoor amplified music that is not authorized in their use permit, vacation and weekend rentals with renters disrupting resident neighbors because they want to party and don’t care. Kenwood does more than its fair share to support tourism. The Village does not need cannabis tourists, tour buses and limos coming to a dispensary.
Third, some businesses in the Kenwood Village support this application because they think it will draw more customers to their business. Narrow financial self-interest should not override what’s good for residents. Further, if dispensary customers do go to the restaurant/bar or wine tasting rooms, their parking time increases, further congesting the parking lot.
Fourth, county cannabis dispensary regulations state: “No alcoholic beverages shall be allowed or consumed on the premises.” This would be made a mockery by a bar/brewery and multiple wine tasting rooms sharing the same courtyard premises as the proposed dispensary.
Traffic Safety on Highway 12: Traffic safety also requires that this proposal not be approved. There is no stoplight for entry or exit from the Village. Lefthand turns out of this shopping center for traffic going west towards Santa Rosa are difficult.
The lefthand turn lane on Highway 12 is there for entry into the facility going westbound, and is not well designed for exit from the facility going west onto Highway 12. This proposed dispensary would attract many hundreds of customers daily, including during the PM rush hours and weekends, making a currently difficult area of Highway 12 even more difficult and dangerous.
Dispensaries should be located where the added traffic can be handled without raising traffic safety or parking congestion issues. The applicant at the Aug. 21 meeting did not deny that sites with traffic lights and more ample parking exist; however, they said that they cannot amend their application and change the proposed location and still “stay in line” for county consideration of their proposal. That’s their choice and problem and does not justify this site.
Congestion within Kenwood Village: In addition to traffic safety concerns on Highway 12, the additional traffic from a dispensary would generate parking and congestion issues within the Village. Many Kenwood residents have to go to the post office to get their mail. This proposed dispensary would unquestionably make the parking lot for the post office congested. Residents should not have to hunt for parking places to pick up their mail.
Further, exiting the shopping center onto Highway 12 can currently be a challenge when someone is trying to make a left turn during busy traffic. The car wishing to turn left must often wait a considerable time to make a safe exit, and cars back up in the shopping center. The applicant intends to market to populations west of Kenwood, which would increase left turns out of the Village making this problem worse. When this exit gets congested, frustrated drivers go around and out the Randolph Avenue exit, which is directly across the street from the fire station and first responders’ emergency exit.
If the Kenwood Village parking lot becomes filled with hundreds of daily cannabis tourists and customers, Kenwood residents will regret the day the county approved this application. The issuance of a permit for a dispensary is discretionary with the county, and the county must assess neighborhood compatibility. Residents who have concerns may submit their comments to the county, c/o Sou Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to Supervisor Susan Gorin at Susan.Gorin@sonoma.county.org.