Celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s plans to build a winery on a rural road west of Santa Rosa were unanimously rejected Thursday by the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments.
The preliminary 5-0 vote, which needs to be confirmed in a future board meeting, came after two hours of public comment and in front of an audience that at one point featured more than 150 people, most of them opposed to the project.
The strong stance against the proposed 10,000-case winery was led especially by neighbors along the two-lane Willowside Road where Fieri’s project would be located.
They said the commercial operation and calendar of events envisioned by Fieri, a Food Network star and Santa Rosa restaurateur, was out of place in the area. Their objections were focused mostly on possible noise and traffic impacts, and their protests appeared to carry substantial weight with the zoning board, which went against a recommendation by county staff to approve the project.
“It’s hard to get anyone to agree on anything, and I’ve got 206 signatures in front of me against this project, not to mention numerous letters,” said Willie Lamberson, the zoning board member appointed by newly elected Supervisor James Gore, who represents the area.
Thursday’s vote comes at a time when county has experienced pronounced backlash against wineries that double as event centers. Residents from popular winegrape growing regions, including Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley, have voiced concerns about noise, traffic and other problems associated with year-round events at wineries.
Fieri has been trying for more than two years to gain approval for his project, called Hunt-Ryd Winery after his two sons, Hunter and Ryder. His proposal called for wine tasting in a newly constructed tasting room and 14 events per year at the winery, including four events with up to 120 attendees.
Fieri did not attend the hearing Thursday, but the Santa Rosa attorney representing him, Tina Wallis, told the zoning board members during the hearing that their decision carried “ramifications for the entire wine industry and for county projects.”
Planning Director Tennis Wick called the unanimous vote against the proposed new winery rare.
“During my tenure, we haven’t had a unanimous vote denying a use permit for a winery,” said Wick, who replaced former Planning Director Pete Parkinson in late 2013.
Wallis said she would have to talk with Fieri about the next course of action. She said an appeal to the Board of Supervisors was not out of the question.
“We don’t know yet,” Wallis said. “We’ll be carefully contemplating it.”
Before Thursday’s hearing, a crowd of protesters opposed to the project gathered at noon outside the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. They carried signs that read “No to traffic! No to noise! No!” Other signs read “Shhhhhhh! Keep Willowside Safe & Quiet: No to Guy Fieri.”
More than 100 people tied light blue ribbons to their arms to display their opposition to Fieri’s project. About 30 people from the audience spoke during the hearing. All were in opposition.
“This is like putting Disneyland in downtown Graton,” said Dave Hattem, who lives on Willowside Road. “Mr. Fieri is going to be a draw whether he’s there or not. It’s destroying the character of our community and our neighborhood; it’s the wrong place.”