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Sonoma Raceway continues to push forward, seeking permission to hold a four-day rock festival, likened to San Francisco’s popular Outside Lands festival and BottleRock in Napa.

The Carneros wine region track, one of the largest in the state, recently completed its application, requesting the county make changes to its use permit to allow it to become an entertainment venue and hold non-racing events. The goal is to hold the first music festival in 2017, said Steve Page, the racetrack’s president and general manager. It could draw up to 55,000 people daily.

“We’d be talking about three stages ... (and) lots and lots of acts,” Page said, adding they would bring in various major, national headliners to appeal to fans of all ages.

Before it can go before county supervisors for approval, though, the proposal must undergo an environmental review to determine the impacts it will have on the Sonoma Valley. The process could take up to two years, said Misti Harris, a planner with the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, which is working on hiring a firm to handle the review. The raceway must cover the cost.

“I want to ensure the full impacts have been identified and evaluated,” Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said about the project.

The 1,600-acre raceway also is seeking permission to hold smaller private events, such as corporate parties and fundraisers. Page said organizations have approached them in the past about renting the venue but conditions put in place by the county 15 years ago limit them to only holding motorsport-related events.

“There is a business opportunity for us,” Page said. “There aren’t a lot of places where you can put a party for more than 200 people in this part of the county.”

Still, Sonoma Raceway’s “bread and butter” will remain motorsports, said Diana Brennan, vice president of media and community relations. The track is one of eight tracks nationwide owned by North Carolina-based Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

“We’re a motorsports facility. That’s the bulk and foundation of what we’ll always do,” she said. “We have plenty of demand to fill ourselves up 340 days of the year as we do now.”

The track wants an additional five days of camping on lots off Lakeville Highway to accommodate festival-goers. It also wants permission to install lights at the go-kart racing track and extend its hours until 10 p.m.

The proposal will go before the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission for discussion at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input at the meeting, which will be held in the Community Room, 177 First St. W., Sonoma.

Residents already are raising concerns about the changes to the track, which lost a contract that brought in $4 million a year when Infineon Technologies didn’t renew its 10-year naming rights deal.

Gorin said people are worried about the noise and traffic the changes could bring to Highway 121.

“It’s a major traffic artery in and out of the Sonoma Valley. During race days, people use other traffic routes,” she said.

With more than a half-dozen large wineries in the area, it’s already wrestling with too many activities and traffic, said Kathy Pons, the president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance. The racetrack events could push it over the top, she said.

“It’s the gateway to the Sonoma Valley,” Pons said. “If traffic gets stuck, it won’t make it up the valley as well.”

In addition to the music festival and private events, Sonoma Raceway also wants to open a winery.

Foyt Family Wines approached them about operating a wine-tasting room in the former administrative building at the entrance of the complex, Page said.

“We have a building off the highway that sits empty. A winery that has a connection to the racing world makes sense,” said Page, who also is seeking more flexibility in the kinds of motorsport events that can be held at the complex, first built in 1968.

“It’s fairly restrictive and it gives little flexibility as our industry adapts and changes,” he said of the existing regulations set by the county.

Neighbor Tony Lilly said he and his wife, Nancy, who live about 2 miles from the track, already stay up late. He said they’re often watching the clock, waiting for the racing to wrap up.

“We can hear the track every day. There are certain times when it’s extraordinarily loud... NASCAR events, drag racing,” said Lilly, who sued after the county approved an expansion of the track in 2000.

He added, “You’re not going to sleep until they finish.”

Lilly worries about the noise that will come from music festivals. He said, “If they have bands going to midnight, we’re going to hear it. There’s no doubt.”

The track holds three major events a year, including NASCAR in the summer, which draws about 100,000 visitors that weekend. The rest of the year, it rents out the track to clubs and other groups and provides an on-site racing school.

About a half-million people come through its gates each year, according to its website.

Page said they aren’t seeking to become a concert venue. Despite the requested changes, he said they will still have to abide by strict noise and attendance restrictions throughout the year. He said the music festival would boost the local economy, bringing in more business for hotels and restaurants. It also would raise at least $200,000 for the Speedway Children’s Charities, which has distributed millions of dollars over the past decade to local nonprofits.

“There are some weekends that we make it difficult to travel through this corridor. That’s an understandable concern,” Page said. “We’re essentially asking for one more weekend.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisa news.

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