Crowded parties at Sonoma County vacation homes spark debate

  • Thera Buttaro with Bodega Bay & Beyond vacation home rentals inside one of the homes she offers for rent in Bodega Harbour. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

An upscale neighborhood in Healdsburg is the latest flashpoint for a controversy over vacation rentals that flares periodically in Wine Country.

Residents complain the weekend rental of a nearby house for parties and special events brings traffic and noisy revelers to their neighborhood.

There even was a wedding held at the Sunset Drive house on Fitch Mountain, complete with a band and limos clogging the cul-de-sac, according to retired businessman Richard Burke, who lives on the street.

"It was a very aggravating situation," he said, adding that he and his neighbors have had to put up with the intrusions for close to two years.

"There are pool parties mid-afternoon with 10 cars in front of the house and the noise level is unbelievable," he said of the custom home. It boasts spectacular views, an in-ground saltwater pool, a spa and gourmet indoor and outdoor kitchens. It rents for up to $4,500 a weekend.

"We said, 'This is not what the neighborhood is all about.' There are some expensive, high-end homes and it's a wonderful place to live," he said of the harm done by constant parties and influx of strangers.<NO1><NO>

The debate over vacation rentals pits property owners who can get extra income for showcase and secondary homes — even a primary residence — against those longing for tranquility and wanting to protect the character of their neighborhoods.

Cities and counties have responded differently.

Sonoma County allows vacation rentals in the unincorporated areas. By some estimates, there are 1,000 or more such rentals from The Sea Ranch to the Russian River area to the Valley of the Moon.<NO1><NO>

After a deck built without proper permits collapsed under a crowd of young people partying at a Guerneville-area vacation rental in 2010, seriously injuring a teen girl, the county arrived at a set of rules governing them.

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