A proposed new winery in one of Sonoma County’s most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions was rejected Thursday by county planning officials over concerns about traffic safety and the high concentration of existing wineries.
The Board of Zoning Adjustments voted unanimously to deny a permit for a Westside Road winery southwest of Healdsburg envisioned by Leslie Rudd, the owner of the Oakville Grocery stores. Rudd’s team plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors, making for another high-profile case in the countywide debate about the spread of wineries and the special events they often host.
John Dobrovich, Rudd’s vice president of real estate, stressed that the project, in the works for more than three years, survived thorough studies and that county staff members originally recommended approval of the project.
“And then the (zoning board) completely ignores that, ignores the experts,” Dobrovich said. “We’re disappointed about that, but we’ll appeal.”
On the roughly 26 acres he owns at 4603 Westside Road, Rudd has sought to develop a winery that could produce 10,000 cases annually and host 37 special gatherings, including 13 industrywide event days, 12 promotional events and 12 winemaker meals.
But after a lengthy public hearing last month, the zoning board signaled its intent to reject the project, directing staff to return Thursday with a formal proposal for denial.
Much of the criticism has focused on two turns on Westside Road near the driveway that would lead into the winery. Neighborhood opponents said those turns, particularly the curve just north of the site, are too tight and close to the property to provide drivers with safe sight lines.
Zoning board members agreed, affirming in their resolution to deny the winery permit that sight distances around the northern curve are limited by “topographic issues.” A possible car backup at the winery driveway entrance could further shorten drivers’ sight distances and reaction times, making an accident more likely, the resolution said.
The zoning board also tapped into broader concerns that perhaps the area has already become too concentrated with wineries and related event traffic.
Westside Road has 29 approved wineries, making it one of the most concentrated winemaking zones in Sonoma County, alongside Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. Some neighbors have grown increasingly frustrated with the spread of wineries and events in those areas, and county supervisors are expected to return to that discussion sometime this fall.
Approval of Rudd’s project would result in four wineries, all with tasting rooms and permission to host events, clustered within 0.6 miles, the zoning board’s resolution said.
“One of the challenges that we’re wrestling with up here is what is concentration, what is overconcentration,” said board member Pam Davis. “There’s not a clear guideline at this point. It’s a judgment call.”
The zoning board’s resolution further noted that the project’s proposed 37 event days, added to those held at other nearby wineries, would create a “proliferation of traffic and activity incompatible with the neighborhood” on Westside Road.
“The proposed addition of another winery and tasting room in close proximity to the existing tasting rooms would contribute to a concentration of uses that would be incompatible with the neighborhood character and deleterious to the rural character of the immediate area,” the resolution said.