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Planners, council at odds on tasting room rules

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A final look at tasting room rules by the Sonoma Planning Commission April 10, turned into an acknowledgement that disagreements still exist between the City Council and the commission.

“To send the same message back to the council, sadly, is a waste of time,” said commissioner Matthew Tippell.

In the end, the commission decided not to comment further on the language for draft amendments to the municipal code, dictated by the City Council March 17, but instead asked for a change to a regulation related to outdoor seating. The new language would require a conditional use permit for outdoor seating only when a new business goes in next to property zoned residential.

Commissioner Robert Felder voted “no,” based on his belief that use permits are not bad and should be in place for all businesses that serve alcohol.

“Every tasting room is allowed to be open until 10 p.m., which I think is far beyond tasting room use by right,” he said. “By staying open until 10 p.m. you are providing patrons with an opportunity to do more than taste. No way can I support this recommendation.”

Planning Director David Goodison reminded the commission that the City Council had settled that issue. At its March meeting, the council voted 4-1 to establish definitions for wine tasting and wine bars/taprooms. The council also voted to establish operating standards that would apply equally to all wine tasting facilities operating under a Type 2, ABC license; to identify tasting rooms as a permitted use in commercially-zoned districts; and to identify wine bars/tap rooms as a conditionally-permitted use in commercial districts.

Following that direction, and other minor points at the March meeting, Goodison drafted the following operational standards:

• Hours for visits by appointment, and for invitation-only wine functions, shall not exceed 8 a.m. to 10 p.m..

• Hours of operation for general public access shall not exceed 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Invitation-only functions shall be limited to indoor areas and shall occur no more than 26 times a year, and no more than two times a week.

Additional regulations suggested by staff included a limitation of hours to 8 p.m. when outdoor seating exceeds eight seats, and a parking requirement similar to that in effect for restaurants. The commission declined to support those rules, based on lack of consensus, thereby letting the council set policy.

In closing, commission chair Chip Roberson reminded everyone that use permits are not a prohibitive process, but allow the public to have a voice. “They allow us to take in all the factors to handle cases that are different,” he said.“I think this commission has been adaptable and supportive.”

The issue will once again appear in municipal code language form, ready for council approval at a future City Council meeting.

  • Fred Allebach

    Having attended the meeting, 3 commissioners spoke in favor of use permits. The joint study session post mortem was that the meeting and public was about 50/ 50 for a use permit. Measue B had about 50/ 50 for limitations on tourist development, and the city council? 4 to 1 for no use permit. Seems like the council is not mirroring public opinion on this wine tasting issue.