s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Continue reading with unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
For just $5.25 per month, you can keep reading SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?

Sonoma Cheese Factory to be partially demolished, make room for ‘Oxbow-like’ project

X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

The idiosyncratic yet lovable 1945 deco landmark on Spain Street, the Sonoma Cheese Factory, earned its second life late last Thursday night when the Sonoma Planning Commission voted 5-2 to approve the application for an extensive renovation, remodel and re-visioning of the business.

It was not, however, a slam dunk.

Consideration of the project had already been continued once – from a March 22 meeting that ended with developer Steve Carlin – known for his bustling Oxbow Market in Napa – essentially threatening to drop the project altogether and leave Sonoma with a boarded-up historical landmark.

And this second meeting, held April 12, almost didn’t happen either. A significant set of documents were submitted too late to be included in the official “packet,” so even before the regular business of the meeting (with its discussions of Sebastiani’s zucchini races, a microbewery license for Mi Ranchita restaurant, and Scooteria’s request for outdoor seating) Chair Robert Felder polled the commissioners to see if they were prepared to tackle the contentious Cheese Factory, given the “late drop of material.”

But the commission, with some reservations from commissioner James Bohar, decided to proceed after the other agenda items had been taken care of.

When they came back to the topic at hand over an hour later, it was the familiar issues that played the largest part in the public debate: parking and traffic. While many applauded Carlin’s involvement with Oxbow Public Market in Napa, a like amount noted that the Oxbow’s popularity was as much a strike against a similar development in central Sonoma.

Sonoma resident Logan Harvey was among several who noted during the public comment period that, although the Oxbow is not in the center of Napa’s downtown, it draws 1.5 million visitors per year.

“The problem for me with this project is I really want to go to it, everybody wants to go to it,” said Harvey. “I think it’s a beautiful idea, but it’s going to choke parking to the point it’s going to make the Plaza completely unlivable.”

Others were skeptical that an Oxbow-style Sonoma Cheese Factory would become a destination of its own, given the Plaza area’s many attractions – historical significant, a state park, winetasting and other tourist-oriented shops, multiple restaurants and a seven-acre park.

By and large the most prominent argument was to rethink parking and traffic in the Plaza area altogether, which some say is problematical now, even before the proposed Cheese Factory remodel.

“What are you going to do about parking?” downtown gallery owner Kaeti Bailie challenged the Planning Commission. “Because none of these businesses in town can do anything about it.”

Bailie, who owns Artifax, suggested off-site parking and shuttles, but illustrated her point by saying, “You can only pour a quart of water into a quart container; when you add more water, it will overflow.”

Kelso Barnett, who was recused from his seat on the Planning Commission due to his proximity to the project, spoke as a private individual requesting a new traffic study. He pointed out – as had others before him – that the Cheese Factory traffic study presented to the commission was based on a traffic survey taken in November 2017. That was just one month after the fires when tourist visitation to Sonoma was markedly depleted.

During the commission’s discussion, when seated alternate Lynda Corrado called for a long-term parking plan, Sonoma Planning Director David Goodison patiently explained that the city already does have a long-term parking plan, adopted in 2017; and a city council-funded downtown parking study was 80 percent complete and would come to the Planning Commission in the near future.

The bigger issue was that the City of Sonoma and State Parks are in the middle of renegotiating the lease of the Casa Grande parking lot – directly behind the Sonoma State Park’s buildings and the Cheese Factory – and placing demands on the Cheese Factory project to more utilize the Casa Grande lot was at this point not appropriate.

Other concerns were raised about the historic-building status of the distinctive former cheese factory at 2 W. Spain St. The developer’s plans – calling for the entire building, aside from the façade, to be demolished – was questioned by some who thought the historic status of the property was not just about its distinctive façade, but the value of the building in Sonoma’s cheese-making history.

“In this project, the destruction of the one-story middle section, which has been identified as a ‘character defining feature,’ constitutes a significant adverse environmental effect,” historic-resource-analyst Alice Duffee told the Index-Tribune. “The proposed mitigation is photo documentation and interpretation (panels, kiosk, etc.),” which she said does not mitigate demolition.

Although Duffee said the likes the project in general, she cautioned that “the city’s environmental documentation is on shaky legal grounds.”

But when it came time for planning commissioner arguments, all the members made it a point to say they liked the project overall, and most swallowed their objections and decided to favor the project – perhaps swayed by Goodison’s statement that, although it’s not a reason to approve the project, further studies would “kill the project.”

“We can continue to ask for more studies,” he said, “but I think that we are as a practical matter at a decision point for this project.”

The final vote was 5-2 in favor of the application, with commissioners James Bohar and Robert McDonald casting their no votes over the still-unresolved issues of traffic and parking impacts, as well as concerns about the scale of the 11,000-square-foot building to be constructed behind the signature façade.

Maria Viviani, whose family has owned the Sonoma Cheese Factory for three generations, applauded the decision and its recognition of the Vivianis’ position as a “legacy family” in Sonoma.

“That was a long struggle, but I feel really satisfied today,” she told the Index-Tribune on Friday. “I was overwhelmed with the unsolicited support from people coming out in favor of the project.”

Whether or not that community support prevents an appeal to the Planning Commission’s decision – which some have predicted – remains to be seen.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.