The EIR for the Sonoma Hotel Project is going to get a little bulkier – at least that’s one way of looking at the Sonoma City Council’s vote on Monday to uphold an appeal of the environmental impact report on the project proposed for West Napa Street.
The City Council voted 5-0 in a special meeting held Aug. 14 to uphold an appeal of the Planning Commission’s certification of the environmental impact report for the proposed Hotel Project Sonoma, a 62-room hotel and 80-seat restaurant on West Napa, between First and Second streets.
The EIR, approved by the commission last April, was subsequently appealed by critics of the report who argued it failed to fully disclose potential environmental impacts, address certain mitigation measures and offer project alternatives. In July, the hotel project applicants, Kenwood Investments – whose founder is Darius Anderson the managing partner in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Index-Tribune – submitted a letter to the city requesting an opportunity to address the concerns outlined in the appeal.
The revised EIR for the project, which has been in the pipeline since 2012, will eventually return to the Planning Commission for review.
According to a city staff report, additions to the EIR would focus upon the following:
• an alternative in which about 50 percent of the proposed building area is residential and 50 percent is commercial
• an alternative in which a residential component of eight to 12 units is added to the project
• an alternative in which the project’s proposed restaurant is eliminated and the number of hotel rooms is reduced
In voicing his support of the council’s action, Fred Allebach, one of the backers of the appeal, described the environmental mitigation measures as a small part of a larger picture.
“Given that (the United States) has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord,” said Allebach, “it’s really on us to take these measures seriously and do as much as we can.”
Appellate Larry Barnett advised the city to additionally look at a broader interpretation of the “vehicle miles traveled” brought on by a hotel than is currently in the EIR, as a recent state court decision regarding Sonoma County’s “climate action plan” ruled that greenhouse gases fueled by tourists traveling from outside the county to their destination within the county could be subject to EIR review.
However, the city staff report touched upon that issue – saying guidance from the state Office of Planning and Research focuses its VMT tally on trips made by employees, not hotel guests. Additionally, the report says, the “metrics that are used to evaluate the potential impacts of a project in terms of VMT are in flux.” Staff, however, could address the issue upon further study, concludes the report.
The council, which had been expected to approve the appeal, voted in unanimity with little comment. For her part, Mayor Rachel Hundley, expressed that she was “pleasantly surprised” by the thoroughness of the resolution.
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