Sonoma Planning Commissioners ruled on wine and tree issues Thursday, during one of their lightest agendas in recent memory.
A lodging’s right to sell a bottle of wine to its registered guests – even in a residential zone – was upheld, despite a meticulous presentation to the contrary by former Councilmember Joe Costello.
Commissioners unanimously agreed with Planning Director David Goodison’s interpretation of city codes, which permit a bottle of wine to be included in the price of a room as long as the ABC license allowing it is approved.
Costello, who led the campaign to keep hotels off publicly zoned land a decade ago, argued in favor of the appeal in a lengthy, methodical presentation that included arguments and exhibits, much like one heard in a courtroom. He and Jon Diederich, representing North of the Mission Neighborhood Association, filed the appeal.
The thrust of Costello’s argument was that retail sales were not permitted uses in residential zones and thus constituted an intensification of use. He also pointed out inconsistencies between the original act that allowed the ABC to regulate, and current permitting practices.
“This is not as simple as the sale of a bottle of wine,” said Costello.
The challenge came about when the Cottage Inn Bed and Spa/Vacation Rentals applied for a Type 67 license that allows guests to purchase wine if pre-ordered and consumed on the premises. The Inn is at 310 First St. E.
“I don’t understand this,” said Zack Weinberg, one of the owners. “All we’re doing is building in the cost of a bottle of wine into our room rate.”
He said he was not into “what ifs” and was not there to discuss interpretations of the development code. Costello had cited several sections of city codes in his presentation, along with “possible” scenarios that might occur in the future.
In the end, the commission agreed with Goodison’s interpretation. “I don’t see this as a land use issue,” said Commissioner Bill Willers. “I see this as a licensing protocol by the ABC. It’s not like they’re adding a room. It’s not general retail.”
Commissioners were told no problems have been reported regarding the practice, even though guests have long been able to bring their own wine to their rooms. Only three other establishments have similar licenses. One is in a residential zone and two others are in commercial zones.
The decision can be appealed to the City Council.
The only other piece of business in the unusually short agenda was a discussion of how trees would be protected, once a development is completed. Willers had brought forth the discussion item, noting that great pains are taken to protect prominent trees during construction, but once the project is completed, protections go away.
An inventory of heritage trees exists, and these cannot be cut down without a review by the Tree Committee. But Goodison pointed out that most of these trees are in front yards or on public property.
He said nothing is in place that protects trees on private property in rear or side yards.
Fred Allebach, a frequent public speaker at the commission, pointed out tall, full grown trees along the Police and Community Building’s south property line are slated for removal. He said these should be protected as well.
“This is a sensitive issue,” said Commissioner Matthew Tippell. “We live in a town with a finite number of sites left for development. All have trees. I am a huge proponent of saving relevant trees. If we’ve discussed them and designated them for protection, they should continue to be saved. If they are street trees, they should be protected. But if they’re privately owned, we’re on a slippery slope.”
Both Patricia Cullinan and Pat Pulverenti spoke in favor of additional protections, even for those on private property. But the commission fell short of asking for a review of the tree ordinance. Instead it decided to look at building-in future protections in conditions of approval, as new development projects come up for review.