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News: 05/15/2020

Supervisors to get update on wine events, traffic impacts

First public airing for long-anticipated rules

County supervisors will receive an update on a set of studies ordered in 2014 to "address winery events and potential overconcentration" at their regular, if virtual, May 19 meeting. A focused traffic study of the three targeted areas of overconcentration is included in the update and hearing that kicks off at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday morning. Labeled as a "hearing" in the published notice, the public may submit comments and participate in the virtual event.

The traffic study was commissioned in 2016 and includes draft traffic recommendations for each focus area - the Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Westside Road. The COVID-19 quarantine derailed a scheduled March 25 Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) review of events and the pertinent traffic study for Sonoma Valley. The Commission is expected to host a public review of these items later this year. Those studies were posted online last November.

The Permit & Resource Management Department - known as Permit Sonoma - is asking the supervisors for guidance on what to do with the information developed from many years of meetings among groups of winery owners, neighbors and concerned groups in Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Westside Road - the communities most concerned about the impacts of noise and traffic from events and tasting rooms. Such events were enabled in 1989, and expanded by General Plan modifications in 1993 and 2008. Prior to 1989, the county did not allow events or promotional activities on agricultural land.

Groups have wrangled over numbers, size of wineries, and even definitions of what constitutes an "event," much less an agriculturally related event. There are private parties, weddings, region-wide events and industry-wide events, all scaling up in size from a few people at a single winery to thousands of people a day visiting dozens of wineries in orchestrated county-wide events, particularly during September and October, the prime harvest months.

The Permit Sonoma staff report suggests approaching any new attempts to control concentration with a set of development guidelines included in an ordinance, a separate set of guidelines, or a combination of the two. While an ordinance might offer the clearest map for development and events, guidelines could be developed quicker and be more easily tailored for specific areas. But Permit Sonoma is recommending that the board adopt a combination of the two to address the "unique sensitivities to additional winery events activity," of each area. Ordinances are applied by zoning districts, and impact areas may not align with an existing zone.

See a full discussion of these items in this article.

A draft version of a Sonoma Valley ordinance can be seen here.

Documents and comments received so far are available online and include:

Other documents available include:

If you have questions or concerns regarding the winery events update, please contact the Project Planner, Georgia McDaniel, at or by calling 565-4919.

Written comments may be submitted prior to the hearing. Comments will be made available to the Board of Supervisors prior to or at the hearing.

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