County kicks off effort to preserve rural Freestone

JUST SAY NO!!! Eric Koenigshofer alerted the area to the problem……

County kicks off effort to preserve rural Freestone

Process to remedy inconsistencies underway

Sonoma County’s effort to correctly zone the 29 parcels in the town of Freestone kicked off on Thursday night with a focus on limiting the amount of commercial expansion in the hamlet. The endeavor became necessary after the county’s permit department learned of discrepancies between the county’s General Plan and the parcel map.

“One or the other is wrong,” said Deputy Director of Planning Jennifer Barrett. “There is a conflict between the written policy and the land designation.”

John Burgess Press Democrat photographer

According to Matt Gilster, comprehensive planner with Permit Sonoma, the error stems from the county’s 1989 General Plan, which erroneously designated some of the town’s parcels for commercial use.

Of the 29 total properties in Freestone, four have an existing commercial use, 22 are zoned for residential use, one is zoned for agricultural purposes and another is designated as a public facility property. One additional commercial building is vacant but has an approved use permit.

Gilster said that Freestone has always had a few commercial properties, but that the current zoning map allows for many more. The intent of the 1989 General Plan was to preserve limitations on the expansion of commercial uses and zoning in Freestone.

The error allows for expansion,” he said.

If the mapping and zoning errors aren’t corrected, commercial uses would be allowed to expand in Freestone. Residents say they have become increasingly concerned that the area would lose historical residential uses, impacting Freestone’s rural community character

Many attendees of Thursday night’s meeting voiced their frustration, wanting to know why the oversight occurred.

“Who did it and how it happened isn’t important,” Barrett said. “What’s important today is focusing on what we want the community to be.”

Over the course of the last two years, the hamlet at the intersection of Bodega and Bohemian highways has been a point of interest for many business ideas, including a 205-acre winery event center proposed by Santa Rosa telecom entrepreneur John Webley.

In May, the county’s zoning board voted to freeze new commercial development until the inconsistencies could be rectified.

Correcting these errors would allow those commercial operations currently zoned in residential areas to continue to operate. New use permits for commercial endeavors would not be issued.

“The cheese shop will be able to continue operations,” Barrett said. “It would affect its expansion however.”

Gilster said correcting the zoning errors would not preclude new businesses, but would limit where they can set up shop.

Rather, Gilster explained that the county will be focused on maintaining the historical district character and preservation. In 1974, the county made Freestone it’s first historic district featuring roughly 33 historic structures and landmarks, including the 1867 Greek Revival Schoolhouse, 1872 Greek Revival Hotel, 1876 Italianate General Store and two Greek Revival private residences.

The hamlet’s history became richly established as it morphed from unsettled territory into a stop along the North Coast Pacific Railroad. Pomo Indians lived in the area for centuries. One of the town’s first settlers was the prominent land surveyor Jasper O’Farrell.

The town, with fewer than three-dozen residents, is named for the public sandstone quarry that existed in 1853. The town grew and in the late 18th century, Freestone served as a center for harvesting and milling redwood.

After considering public comment, the county planning staff will work on identifying and preserving land use of historical commercial and residential properties and eliminating the land use discrepancies and the conflict between the General Plan and zoning map. The issue will return to the county zoning board for consideration and eventually end up being decided by the Board of Supervisors.

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