HOPING TO REVITALIZE A RELIC:DEVELOPER SEEKS TO TURN SEBASTOPOL'S BARLOW PLANT INTO ARTISANAL COMPLEX
People heading west on Highway 12 into Sebastopol are still greeted by the rundown remains of the defunct Barlow processing plant -- a relic of the town's historic apple industry.
Now a developer is making another attempt to revitalize the town's rundown cannery district with major plans to refocus the area into a hub of boutique manufacturers and redraw city streets to better improve traffic.
Barney Aldridge, who acquired the property in 2005, has already signed up several art, food and beverage producers. This week, he announced an agreement to add Kosta Browne Winery, which makes one of Sonoma County's most coveted pinot noirs. If approved by city officials, it would be Sebastopol's only bonded winery by the time of its scheduled opening in fall 2012.
The proposed 220,000-square-foot complex, dubbed The Barlow, will include an artist studio, several spaces for food and beverage startups, a bocce court, a children's playground and space for the Sebastopol Farmer's Market, Aldridge said.
"West County has got all these great producers of artisan food, art, and just wonderful things," Aldridge said. "So we came up with a farming-industrial design based on Sebastopol's past."
A smaller version of the artisanal center was approved by city officials in December 2010. The addition of Kosta Browne means the project must return to the city for review, a process that will take a minimum of five to six months.
Kosta Browne, which ships most of its limited production wine direct to members and has a waiting list of 15,000 people, would anchor the development on the eastern edge of Sebastopol just north of Highway 12.
"We're really excited to keep our winery in West County," said Michael Browne, a co-founder of the wine label. "We're basically building twice as much space as we need so we never have to move again."
Kosta Browne, which produced about 14,000 cases of wine last year, plans to increase production about 20 percent during the next five years as it begins selling chardonnay, Browne said.
Others who have signed leases include Woodfour Brewing Co., a boutique beer maker looking to expand into its first commercial space and have a scaled-down restaurant; Bliss Bakery, a Santa Rosa-based maker of gluten-free products that wants to add a second larger oven and retail space; and Mama Tina's Ravioli, which currently is trying to manage booming demand for its homemade pasta from rented space in the Guerneville Elementary School kitchen.
"People love being able to watch the ravioli being made," said Tina Eliason, a Forestville resident who started her pasta company last summer and already needs more space. "Now I'll be right there at the Sebastopol Farmer's Market, which is awesome."
These latest plans are the third attempt by Aldridge to develop the site.
His first attempt included residential units, which was rejected by the city. On his second attempt last year, the city approved his plans to create a hub of artisanal producers and to reshape city streets in the area, but the proposal did not include the 45,000-square-foot winery facility.
The proposed Kosta Browne production facility would add about 27,000 square feet to the already approved 193,000-square-foot complex, requiring a new traffic and air pollution study.
The winery would not include a public tasting room, and would be open only to its mailing list members by appointment, Browne said. And that has city officials cautiously believing the plan could be approved with a scaled-back study on the impact to traffic and air pollution rather than a full-blown Environmental Impact Report.
"Preliminarily, it looks like they might not need an EIR, but that remains to be seen," said Kenyon Webster, planning director for the city.
Barney said he has been working with farmers, artists, the city and others to make sure everyone is on board for his current plan.
Sebastopol Mayor Guy Wilson was a resident who strongly opposed the initial project in 2008, and was largely elected on a platform of stopping it. But he praised the current proposal that includes the winery.
"I can't prejudge anything, but from what I've seen it seems consistent with the historic use of the northeast area," he said. "I think it is a great idea. It holds the promise of really revitalizing that part of Sebastopol, economically, culturally and socially."
Aldridge, 45, is the founder and former chief executive of Santa Rosa-based mortgage company Benchmark Lending. He looks more like a typical Sebastopol resident than real estate developer as he plods barefoot around his office wearing a green plaid flannel shirt, and slipping on flip-flops to tour the 6.5-acre complex.
Aldridge plans to construct new buildings with corrugated metal to capture the historic look of the apple processing plant, and to revitalize the remaining corrugated-metal structures by sandblasting away old paint.
Sebastopol's connection to the apple industry is more than a century old. The Barlow family started the first commercial applesauce business in the United States before going out of business in 2004.
"Now we want to help reconnect West County producers with their community," Aldridge said.
You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 703-1577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.