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Wing and Barrel Hunt Club faces appeal over expansion plans

The Wing & Barrel Ranch, a private hunting, fishing and shooting club located off Highway 37 east of the Sonoma Raceway, faces an appeal to its January 2017 use permit – for a new clubhouse and expanded operations – at a hearing Thursday, Nov. 16, before a county zoning board.

“This proposed clubhouse with ‘premium member gun services’ would be situated in the middle of the spectacular Sonoma Baylands, a public conservation and restoration project paid for by taxpayers,” said Tom Rusert, one of two Valley residents who brought the appeal.

The other person filing was Sue Smith, who owns property near the hunt club.

The Wing & Barrel Hunt Club was first permitted in 2012 for operation at 6600 Noble Road, east of the Sonoma Raceway, as a hunting club and clay shooing course on 978 acres, with 8,500-square-foot clubhouse, 50-dog kennel, an on-site caretaker’s residence and other related structures. It’s a new location for the historic Black Point Sportsman Club, formerly in the Sears Point wetlands.

The club is legally known as Kenwood BPSC and is owned by Kenwood Investments, whose founder is Darius Anderson, who is managing partner in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Index-Tribune.

In 2016, the club asked for a revised use permit to build a new 26,802-square-foot clubhouse, as well as a 1.5-acre casting pond, an 85-foot-high clay shooting tower, a new parking lot and other developments. Their project description includes plans for member events and increased hours of private use.

The 2016 process for a revised use permit included review and approval by the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission and the Design Review Committee, with eventual administrative approval coming from county Permit and Resource Management Department Director Tennis Wick on Jan. 27, 2017.

The use permit granted the Wing and Barrel extends open hours to 14 hours a day, five days a week, year-round. Because the property is under Land Conservation Act requirements for public access, there will continue to be public access just two days a week at the smaller clubhouse; bird-hunting permits would be sold to the public for $35-$45 per bird, with a minimum five-bird package ($175-$225).

Sport hunting is allowed from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset; the additional hours are allowed for post-hunt cleanup. Some proposed events, including food-and-wine pairings, would also extend well past sunset, to as late as 9 p.m.

On Feb. 6, a little over a week after PRMD gave its approval, Smith and Rusert filed their appeal, reopening the process leading to the hearing this week before the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Their initial appeal cited concerns with biological impacts in the low-lying Baylands area of the hunt club with its wildlife conservation and landscape preservation requirements.

Traffic safety impacts and the fate of Highway 37, public fund investments in Baylands environmental protection, potential sea level rise and the absence of compliance monitoring were subsequently raised by Smith and Rusert as related issues of concern, in their correspondence with PRMD.

But the appeal was based on more than a checklist of environmental worries.

“The most essential thing is that the project description as originally submitted is really misleading and inaccurate,” said project critic Meg Beeler, also of Sonoma Valley but not one of the listed appellants. “All the subsequent studies are based on that misleading and inaccurate description, downplaying everything that was going to happen.”

Other Valley residents who have become concerned with the Hunt Club’s plans for expansion include Ted Eliot, Kathy Pons and Norman Gilroy.

“The appellants continue to have serious reservations, including about this project’s effects on the safety of traffic, on the enjoyment of visitors to the Baylands, and on the appropriateness of such a large private club in the Baylands which have been protected and preserved with the expenditure of tens of millions of public (taxpayer) and private funds,” wrote Eliot in a supporting statement.

“A modest public hunt club has incrementally morphed into an elite event center for some 400-600 hand-selected individual and corporate members,” wrote Rusert. “An encroachment born in a 2012 PRMD Use Permit that continues to grow largely unchecked.”

Bill Hooper, listed in PRMD documents as the applicant and president of Kenwood Investments, took issue with fears of encroachment and unchecked growth.

“We are not increasing the number of users of the property,” Hooper wrote to the Index-Tribune. “The club has historically serviced about 600 members or seasonal customers and their guests.”

Hooper said they’ve provided filing information going back to 2009 to PRMD “to demonstrate that the club usage will be consistent with the number of hunters that have historically hunted on the property.” Hooper added that the “number of shooters that can be on the property is limited based on the number of hunters who can safely be on the property at one time.”

Compliance oversight is one of the issues raised by Rusert, Smith and their colleagues.

“It’s very scary because the whole county is so burdened by the event issue, and they still haven’t come out with guidelines,” said Beeler. “It just feels really inappropriate.”

Their appeal states that the proposed changes in size and character constituted a change in use for the property, and should require both rezoning and a General Plan amendment, including a full EIR and public hearings, before it should be allowed.

But the BZA staff report, which looked at the issues of appeal and evaluated a mitigation negative declaration, concluded most impacts were less than significant and recommends the appeal be denied.

The BZA hearing will be Thursday, Nov. 16, at 1:30 p.m. at the Permit Sonoma hearing room at 2550 Ventura Ave. in Santa Rosa.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.