Why we appealed
By The Valley of the Moon Alliance
On Aug. 3, Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) lost its appeal of the Sonoma Country Inn’s (Resort) latest redesign. In response, VOTMA has appealed the Planning Commission’s (PC) decision to the Board of Supervisors to reconsider. Approval of the redesign is the final discretionary step before construction permitting. The proposed Resort is a reimagined version of the 2004 Sonoma Country Inn (SCI).
So, what prompts VOTMA’s appeal? The answer is pretty straightforward. In the 13 years since its original approval, the world and Sonoma Valley have changed. The project’s design has changed as well. In California, when a development with an approved EIR is changed significantly, or if new information comes to light, then environmental impacts require updating. Will it result in new, different or more severe impacts? VOTMA urged both the Design Review Committee (DRC) and the PC to require further study of the redesigned Resort based on new information, design modifications, and circumstances that have changed over the years. Our arguments were rejected largely because commissioners felt bound by the County’s 2007 “vesting” letter, which secured SCI’s 2004 plans.
We believe the current proposal, approved without change by the DRC and PC, differs considerably from the 2007 vested plans. What was a traditional two-story main lodge with conventional roof is now a three-level contemporary open-air inn. A restaurant and adjoining bar, originally on the lower floor, now extends onto the third floor roof terrace. A first-floor bar has been added. The Inn’s 19 cottages have been consolidated into 17 (some larger), and have been relocated to varying degrees. Three large units have been moved westward towards a ridge, raising visibility and night-sky lighting concerns. Two connected smaller pools were merged into a larger “infinity” pool with waterfalls. Hot tubs have been added in cottages. A public spa has been expanded, with public parking added, and includes a yoga studio, exercise room, treatment area, saunas, a partial lower level, and an outdoor pool. Parking has been reconfigured into two large lots closer to the front of the main inn. A new operations building has been added.
The DRC and PC determined that those changes were insubstantial. We disagree. In light of the four-year drought we’ve endured, we’re especially concerned about uncertain impacts on groundwater. Estimated annual consumption for the revised Resort has actually increased from the six million gallons previously contemplated. That is in spite of the 300,000 gallons saved by a proposal to truck laundry services off site.
If developed, this luxury resort will likely be an international destination. Travel from abroad generates significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). For a decade now, California law has mandated that environmental review of large developments include analysis of GHG impacts. The County did not require a GHG analysis for the SCI, or the redesigns approved by the DRC and the PC. In July, Sonoma County Superior Court ruled that the County’s Climate Action Plan failed to adequately assess GHG, thus violating CEQA. Over the last 13 years, the affects of human activity on climate have become indisputable.
Extraordinary hours (6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week) for the restaurant/bar, combined with the new third-floor roof terrace and new parking arrangement will likely increase public use, adding to noise, light and traffic impacts. Congestion on Highway 12 has worsened since 2004, while any widening anticipated back then is off Caltrans’ drawing board.
VOTMA’s appeal to the Board asks that the redesigned project be studied in light of current knowledge in a supplemental environmental review. We don’t think that is too much to ask. Do you?
Our alliance was formed to preserve the rural character and natural resources of this Valley. We’re grateful for your feedback, support and participation. Please keep in touch via our website, VOTMA.org, which provides background information and status of current projects.
We hope to see all of you at our Saturday, Sept. 23, fundraiser at Kenwood Plaza Park from noon to 4 p.m.!