Luxury complex opposed by neighbors goes to supervisors
By Spencer Soper Press Democrat Staff Writer
Saying it's in stride with efforts to promote Sonoma Wine Country as a tourist destination, the county Planning Commission on Thursday endorsed a proposed $30 million luxury resort and winery in Kenwood that has faced fierce opposition in the small community.
On a 4-1 vote, planning commissioners said the 50-room Sonoma Country Inn, which would be built on 477 acres off Highway 12, would help the local economy, which is increasingly dependent on tourism, and pump tax revenue into county coffers
"I'm impressed by the quality of the project and that it's not just another event center," said Commissioner Dick Fogg, who represents the Sonoma Valley. "Over the years, this project will complement the Kenwood community."
Commissioner Rue Furch cast the lone dissenting vote, saying such a facility shouldn't be allowed in a predominantly agricultural area. In addition to the hotel and winery, the proposal includes a restaurant and 11 homes.
"I feel this is not an appropriate application for this site," Furch said.
About 20 people attended the meeting, but the planning commissioners didn't take public testimony. The commission has held three previous public hearings regarding the project since March.
The commission's endorsement is a big boost for the developer, Auberge Resorts, the owner of Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford. But the company still must win approval from the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to consider the application in August.
County planners in March recommended that the application be denied and urged the developer to relocate the buildings from a plateau overlooking the valley down to the valley floor where they would be less visible. Planners also were skeptical of the developer's projections that the inn would generate $1 million in annual bed taxes for the county.
Project opponents have complained that the resort would clog Highway 12 with traffic, light up the otherwise dark sky at night and disrupt the area's rural charm.
But a majority of the commissioners said the developer would minimize the problems by building left-turn lanes at Lawndale Road and Randolph Avenue and using outdoor lighting that produces little glare.
Commissioners recommended that the developer be required to secure approval for the left-turn lanes from Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over Highway 12, before construction can begin.
Auberge's proposal comes as the county is considering new land-use rules that would allow tourist uses such as hotels and bed and breakfasts on land historically designated for agriculture. Proponents of the changes say agriculture and tourism are increasingly intertwined, while opponents fear they would open up farmland for commercial development.