An effort by residents of a subdivision between the Sonoma Developmental Center and Sobre Vista to have 32 lots designated as a vacation rental “exclusion zone” was approved last week by the Sonoma County Planning Commission. And that designation – which prohibits the issuance of any new vacation rental permits in the subdivision – succeeded far beyond the applicants’ original intent.
The unanimous, 5-0 approval included 32 additional lots in the same general area, essentially doubling the original request to include parcels with similar characteristics between the proposed X Zone and an existing X Zone, that of Sobre Vista – one of the original exclusion zones recognized by the Board of Supervisors in their 2016 review of Vacation Rental policy.
The neighborhood asking for new exclusion zone encompassed homes on Morningside Mountain Road, Vigilante Road and Oso Trail just south of SDC property. In mid-2017, 15 of the property owners signed a petition requesting the zoning change, which would prohibit the county from issuing new vacation rental permits in the zone. The petitioners paid $564 per household to help defray the initial cost of the application of $5,582, according to Permit Sonoma, the county’s permitting agency.
In addition to that fee, said Maggie Fleming of Permit Sonoma, “the project is billed at a cost to cover staff time to process the application. This amount would vary depending on the amount of time required for the application.” Hourly rate for staff time is $140, she said.
The application for the neighborhood exclusion zone was filed by Barry Swain, a contractor who lives on Vigilante Road. He said his name is attached to the application – though others were more instrumental in getting the process rolling – only because he took the paperwork to the county. “So of course my name is everywhere,” said Swain. “I’m not happy about that, but I’m just going with it.”
Having his name on the application means he is still getting bills from the county.
“I’ve got to send them a check for $1,816 and just got another invoice for $2,300,” said Swain. “I’m sure there’s going to be more.”
The additional properties were added to the zoning request by Permit Sonoma staff, since the properties share similar characteristics with the Morningside Mountain request and Sobre Vista, including “moderate to steep topography, fire prone forest vegetation, and substandard private roads.”
Still, said Fleming, “There is no added cost to the applicants for the additional lots recommended by staff. Staff will track any additional costs separately.”
According to county officials, the proposed rezone area contains “about seven miles of substandard private roads” that do not meet current private road standards in Sonoma County.
“These physical deficiencies combined with increased traffic from vacation rental guests who would be unfamiliar with the road constraints could affect road safety,” reads a report from county staff.
The addition of the 32 lots to the X Zone also reflects one of 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin’s stated priorities. “I’m pushing for a departmental effort to expand/create exclusion zones all at once – to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and not pass those on to the neighborhoods,” she told the Index-Tribune.
One of the residents who applauded the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote was Susan Costello.