The Kenwood Press
: 05/15/2018

“Why does VOTMA persist?”



By Todd Board for the Valley of the Moon Alliance

Good question – why, indeed, does VOTMA keep at it? We persist in seeking community-focused restraint of impacts arising from new development projects, to protect the unique appeal of Sonoma Valley. Water, traffic, parking, noise, lights – these all are community concerns that we can be certain will never get better on their own, and in fact may be left to decay significantly in the future. Even greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are an intensifying concern, with tourists traveling to Sonoma Valley from around the globe. Only citizens willing to raise red flags when appropriate have a meaningful chance to hold the county and developers accountable.

As highlighted in the April 1st Kenwood Press (kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/9875), on March 27 the Board of Supervisors (BOS) heard VOTMA’s appeal of the planning commission’s earlier approval of the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn (Resort) design review. The “headline” is that the BOS rejected the appeal 4-0 (Supervisor Hopkins absent due to another important district-facing commitment). This outcome was not a surprise to VOTMA, but reaffirmed our disappointment that this long-dormant project would be approved without a new traffic impact study, or a clear determination of the GHG footprint for the combined project (winery and inn/spa/restaurant).

To us, the more salient points of the hearing are that: (1) the BOS was persuaded to modify various Conditions of Approval (COAs), and (2) VOTMA was able to reiterate to the BOS clear and growing concerns in Sonoma Valley regarding groundwater, traffic and parking, quality-of-life issues around noise and lighting, and GHG emissions. This was one in an ongoing flow of opportunities to highlight situations when residents in Sonoma Valley (and here, Kenwood) are asked to bear the entire burden of a development that will benefit us little locally, while benefitting the developer and the county’s coffers.

We didn’t reach out to VOTMA friends to attend the hearing or write to the BOS, because in the background we were negotiating with Resort owner Tohigh and its legal representation right up until the hearing. In essence, the negotiations spilled over into the hearing, and substantially informed the COA adjustments that were obtained. We also appreciate and recognize that Supervisor Susan Gorin’s listening to both Tohigh and VOTMA was critical to arriving at the adjusted COAs. We see these adjusted COAs as a helpful gesture toward community sensitivity that will enable the Resort to be a perfectly successful enterprise, while also being a successful neighbor.

The COA adjustments are:

Annual Resort groundwater consumption will be capped at 17.85 acre-feet, reduced from the originally permitted 19.4 AF, above the Resort’s own consumption projections. The number may sound abstract, but that’s at least a half-million gallons of water remaining in the ground every year.

Outdoor dining will conclude at 10 p.m., and at 10:30 p.m. during daylight saving hours, returning Hood Mountain to dark, nighttime quiet. This compares to original (and situationally absurd) permitted closing of midnight 7 days a week.

No noise-producing events will be permitted on the outdoor terrace restaurant/bar areas. There was no previously clear stipulation on this front.

A cap on 102 parking spaces on site, with all valet parking managed on site, or (if ever needed) off site outside the boundaries of Kenwood. No more lavender fest fiascoes!

Supervisor Gorin also highlighted the need for greater clarity on guest notification regarding emergency evacuation procedures.

After careful deliberation of forward-looking community benefits and costs, VOTMA elected not to appeal the BOS decision in court. We’ve long been resigned to the likely, ultimate county approval of this project. We believe the COA adjustments provide the greatest achievable boundaries and clarifications on aspects of the Resort’s operation most directly impacting our community. While perhaps not “easy,” these COA adjustments were simple for Tohigh to assess and agree to, and simple enough to measure, monitor, and report on. Except for the groundwater cap (which the County is responsible for monitoring), these COA adjustments also are simple enough for all of us in the community to keep an eye on.

Thanks to all of those in the Valley of the Moon who help protect the elements of our community that we all value, and who support VOTMA in these efforts.

The Valley of the Moon Alliance was formed to promote the preservation, protection and maintenance of the agricultural character, natural resources and rural beauty of Sonoma Valley. We are committed to providing a forum for research, information, education and recommendations on projects that affect the environmental qualities of the valley communities.