Kenwood winery plan unaffected by SVCAC
At its meeting in January, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission discussed plans to expand the area over which the group has jurisdiction. The immediate impetus for the move, it seemed, is a proposed winery development in Kenwood by Steve Ledson that is currently just outside the purview of the SVCAC.
Neighbors of the property on which the proposed project, Cunningham Winery, sits voiced their concerns at the SVCAC meeting.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” Ledson told the Index-Tribune. “Everybody needs to look at a project not just individually but look at the overall benefits to the community and all the other possibilities that go with it. I’m always open to suggestions.”
Ledson, while open to the concerns of neighbors, is unfazed by the group’s qualms. “As a builder and developer, I’ve never had a project in my life that there wasn’t neighborhood concern,” Ledson said. “There always is.”
Marna Hill, who lives across Highway 12 from Oakmont, voiced concern about multiple proposed wineries changing the character of the area. “We need help,” she told SVCAC. “We want to preserve the agricultural area.” She did not clarify how a proposed vineyard and winery would not be a continued agricultural use of the property, which is currently a walnut orchard.
Bob Coughenour, who lives on Frey Road, told the panel that he thinks putting a winery and crush facility in what is now a walnut orchard is “an inappropriate use of property.”
“I have a special love for that piece of property. My great-grandfather bought that ranch in 1919,” Ledson said, and explained how the once-105-acre property had passed on from family member to family member throughout the years. The existing ranch, now owned by Ledson, consists of 35 acres. The other parcels were sold off over the decades and developed into houses.
“Things happen. You end up losing parts of your ranch,” said Ledson. “We might wish that we wouldn’t have built all those houses there that are neighbors. They’ve only been there a short time in relation to our time (on the ranch).”
Cunningham Winery is currently in process with the County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD), and its permit application describes two barns and a tasting room, and requests an annual production of 50,000 cases and 24 events. Ledson said he’s been revising the proposal in response to community concerns and might scale back the number of events requested. He quibbles with concerns he’s heard raised about his plans for the property, “It’s not a big commercial looking kind of winery. It’s a small boutique, old Valley-looking piece of property.”
Traci Tesconi, the PRMD planner working on the project, said it’s difficult to say how long it will be before Cunningham Winery goes before the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) for review. “Additional studies are needed to prepare (California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) paperwork,” Tesconi said.She also said that in a meeting with Ledson, PRMD officials voiced concern over the amount of parking requested and the size of the structures relative to the production asked for, and at that time indicated that the project be scaled down.
“We’re about ready to come back with a (revised) plan of what we think is the best use of that property,” said Ledson.
If the project moves forward as expected, going before the BZA in three to six months, it’s unlikely that the purview of the SVCAC would be expanded in time to challenge the development. Even conservative estimates place that expansion as not having a chance of happening before 2014. By that time, Ledson’s proposed project should have long gone before the BZA.
The Ledson ranch on which Cunningham Winery is to be built consists of six different parcels, and is zoned for six different residential houses that could split up the property. Ledson, if he wanted to, could develop those parcels as six individual houses. “But our real love for the property is to plant grapes on it,” said Ledson, “and to have a small winery, small tasting room there and to be able to keep that in our family for another 100 years to come.”