Westside Road signs

RUNNING OUT OF ROOM? - The signs along Westside road are running out of room to add more wineries and neighbors say the same goes for the road itself.

An on-again, off-again rejection and appeal for a proposed 10,000 case winery at 4603 Westside Road is now off and may be permanently scrubbed. The applicant first filed for zoning and use permits in May 2014 and was rejected by the county’s Board of Zoning Adjusments on a 5-0 vote in June 2017.

The Rudd winery proposal was recently scheduled for appeal hearings in front of the Board of Supervisors, first on July 23 and then delayed to Aug. 20. Last week, the applicant, Backen, Gilliam & Kroegar Architects and Broken Hill LLC informed the county it was dropping its appeal. (This action took place after the news deadline for the Aug. 8 issue of Sonoma West Times & News, too late to amend our article on the original appeal.) The supervisors will still have the appeal on their Aug. 20 agenda at 3 p.m. At that time, they can acknowledge the withdrawal. With that action, the appellant will not be able to renew any appeals in the future, according to Permit Sonoma staff.

Calls to the applicant this week were not returned.

The BZA panel voted 5-0 in 2017 to deny the project, citing immitigable traffic safety issues at the location between two sharp curves in the road. An updated winery proposal that was to be reviewed Aug. 20 is unchanged except for the addition of a widened entrance, according to Permit Sonoma notices.

The Westside Community Association (WSA) has formally opposed the project at all previous public hearings and in written complaints. Much of the neighbor’s testimony at the hearings focused on the “cumulative impacts” of adding another winery to a 12-mile rural stretch of Westside Road which is already the location of 22 wineries and tasting rooms. The scenic route that parallels the Russian River between Healdsburg, Wohler Bridge and Hacienda is also a popular bicycle event route, adding to weekend traffic totals.

The proposed Rudd winery would be located less than a half mile on each side by two other wineries with public tasting rooms, MacRostie Winery & Vineyards and BacigalupiVineyards.

“We want the Board of Supervisors to affirm the BZA decision due to the compelling reasons they cited over traffic safety,” said WSA member Marc Bommersbach. “What they (applicant) are proposing with their changes really doesn’t reduce the road safety issues.”

Beyond the local road safety concerns, Bommersbach and the WSA also have listed concerns over the larger impacts to the “rural character” of the Westside Road area. “We understand that wineries need tasting room visitors and activities. But too many wineries with so many events leads to a compounding effect.”

Bommersbach is serving on a Winery Working Group task force appointed by the supervisors in 2014. The group’s report and findings have been sitting on a shelf at PRMD while the county government and planners have been working overtime on new cannabis regulations and impacts from the recent wildfires.

There are actually three working groups. Besides Westside, there is a Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma valley group. The groups were tasked with defining allowable uses and activities on agricultural zoned lands and the limits of winery-hosted public and private events.

“That’s the biggest question,” said Bommersbach, who lives 1.3 miles from the proposed Rudd winery. “It’s a countywide issue when you see complaints about parties, crowds and live music. We need specific regulations.”

Commissioner Davis also favors more clear use and zoning definitions. “Right now we have regulation by complaint,” meaning county staff only inspects a winery’s compliance to its original use permit when a neighbor might file a formal complaint.

Editor’s Note: Rollie Atkinson is a Westside Road resident.

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