Community Separators Put to the test

It’s the old “bait and switch” that the binge tourism-big wine regularly practice, ask for more than they want and “settle” for their original intention. 81% of voters wanted green spaces in Community Separators initiative, we need less tourism not more. The impacts have reached critical mass.

Community Separators Put to Test

By Teri Shore, Sonoma Group Chair

Just months after 81 percent of Sonoma County voters passed Measure K to protect community separators for the next 20 years, a luxury resort and large scale special event center is being proposed on the north edge of Santa Rosa in the Windsor-Larkfield-Santa Rosa Community Separator.

The location is 20 acres at 3890 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, which currently has two homes and was formerly the Buzzard’s Gulch youth camp that has not been in operation for years. The public’s first look at the luxury resort project occurred at the County Design Review Committee meeting on June 21.

If allowed as proposed, the weddings, dinners, and other special events alone would attract about 16,000 to 30,000 new visitors per year, larger than the population of any one of these cities: Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg or Windsor. Adding to the effect of a new community in a community separator, the developers want to construct a massive new event hall, a large new office, two dozen cabins, a large new pool and cabanas, pave over most of a meadow for parking, construct a loop road and convert two residences to vacation rentals.

Also worrisome is that the project site is right next door to the historic and still operating 160-acre Cloverleaf Ranch, where children come every summer to ride horses, go on hay rides and enjoy low-key outdoor fun. The owners of Cloverleaf Ranch attended the design review meeting and said they were upset about the luxury lodging with its wine and food events and how an influx of visitors right on their property line could impact the camp.

Sierra Club and other Measure K supporters are concerned that the size and scale of the luxury resort and event center is inconsistent with community separator policies, zoning and Measure K. It is also in the wrong place because the Windsor-Larkfield-Santa Rosa Community Separator is already compromised by commercial development and sprawl all around it.

Community separators do not stop all development, and allows farmers to build a barn or even a winery in some cases and landowners to keep existing land use rights. But Measure K was clearly intended to stop housing tracts, shopping malls and commercial development including luxury resorts like this one from being built in the green buffers between the nine towns and cities in Sonoma County.

The luxury lodging is more in line with commercial and recreational and visitor serving uses than existing resource and rural development zoning. Either the zoning needs to be changed with a countywide vote per Measure K, or the project needs to be scaled way back to be in line with existing zoning and the intention of community separators.

The Design Review Committee provided extensive design comments on conceptual plans but veered away from any comments about the size or scale of the project, saying that will be up to the Board of Zoning Adjustments. That entity will review the luxury hotel and hold a public hearing in four or five months, according to a county planner.