The Petaluma City Council late Monday rebuffed residents of a mixed-use neighborhood of historic warehouses along the Petaluma River who were seeking stricter regulation of a nearby creamery and ice cream maker they say is too noisy.
Several neighbors in the Celsius 44 complex along First Street appealed a Planning Commission approval in February of permit changes for artisan cheese producer Cowgirl Creamery and its tenant, Three Twins Ice Cream.
Following a lengthy public hearing, the council sided with the creamery, voting 5-0 to deny the neighbors' appeal. Mike Healy was absent and Tiffany Renee recused herself because she lives in the affected condos.
Although neighbors sought greater oversight of both businesses in relation to noise, traffic, parking, potential expansion and overall environmental impacts, City Attorney Eric Danly advised council members that the decision before them was more focused.
Cowgirl Creamery has been at the site for seven years. The condos were built in 2008.
Most businesses and residents in the Foundry Wharf area live in harmony, enjoying the lively, diverse neighborhood.
But some neighbors said noise became a problem when Three Twins began leasing space from the creamery in early 2010.
One of the major objections – noise emanating mostly from equipment owned by Three Twins – wasn't before the council, he said. Sound readings showed the noise has been reduced to levels that fall below the city's decibel limits.
Other complaints, including regarding the installation of a 4,500-gallon whey storage tank without permits, were determined in favor of Cowgirl Creamery. The storage tank, cheesemaker Eric Patterson said, allows them to store their waste before it's taken to an organic pig farm to be used for the animals' feed.
Many of those who spoke in support of the creamery urged the council to support a local business that employs more than two dozen Petaluma residents and continues the city's long agricultural heritage.
Paul Lewis, owner of a nearby animal feed business for four decades, said the council risks alienating ag businesses with too much regulation.
"If we don't hang on to this kind of deal, we'll be eating ice cream made in China and India – and it won't be fresh," he said.
Neighborhood leader Gail Odom, a retired county planner, said many neighbors had "given up hope" of city support for their concerns.
"This is a sorry state of affairs, a sad day for Petaluma for people to feel so marginalized," she said.
In the appeal, Odom asked the council reconsider approvals of the creamery's use permit, require an environmental review of both businesses, require additional sound baffling and continuous sound monitoring, make the businesses move the noisy machinery to the river-side of the parcel, and restrict the businesses, their employees or customers from parking on the condo-side of the city street.
The businesses spent about $80,000 to deaden equipment noise with an insulated enclosure.
Creamery co-owner Sue Conley said she was sorry the noise was troublesome for neighbors.
"I apologize sincerely for noise that has taken place in the past and has been mitigated," she said. "It truly was a nuisance."
Councilman Gabe Kearney said it appeared to him that Cowgirl Creamery was trying to be a good neighbor.
The changes Cowgirl Creamery wanted to its permit will make the business less intrusive to the neighborhood, Mayor David Glass said.