By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hop Kiln Winery’s proposal for a major expansion was denied by Sonoma County officials Thursday as being out of scale with the rural Westside Road.
Westside Grapes, the owner of Hop Kiln, was also told by the Board of Zoning Adjustments that it needs to resolve lingering illegal uses on the property and come back with a proposal for a new production facility.
“The continued violations and the lack of responsible oversight bothers me,” said board member Jason Liles. “The entire production facility is in violation.”
Hop Kiln was asking for a permit to expand the winery to 60,000 cases, which would have made it the largest of the 25 wineries on Westside Road.
The application included building a two-story, subterranean wine-making facility next to the historic hop kilns.
It also was proposing an 11,440-square-foot, single-story building for administrative offices, private wine tasting, events and some agriculture production that dwarfed the existing Hop Kiln Winery building.
The proposal included holding 38 special events a year, some with amplified music, drawing 50 to 500 people, which officials said was a necessary part of their business plan.
“It is what is needed to meet our needs and challenges moving into the future,” said David DiLoreto, Hop Kiln chief executive officer.
The board in a 5-0 vote denied the administration building and events center as being too large and not sufficiently agriculture-related.
The board also restricted Hop Kiln to holding 10 wine-related events, specifically prohibiting weddings, and to seven wine industry events.
“This is agriculture land and our job is to focus on that and to get the applicant focused on that,” Liles said.
It was a victory for neighboring residents, growers and ranchers.
More than a dozen people said Hop Kiln’s event center was commercial and not appropriate for the agricultural area, that events were too noisy and that traffic problems would be worsened.
“The right to farm is not the right to party, and you cannot morph amplified music into farming practices,” said Nancy Citro of the Westside Community Association.
David Henderson of Healdsburg said Hop Kiln would be letting marketing run the winery and once an events center was built, the production facility could be delayed.
Others complained about the traffic that would be generated on the already heavily traveled two-lane road, which is shared by trucks, tourists and an increasing number of cyclists.
“The trips generated that would be attributed to events at this site affects the entire 12-mile stretch of Westside Road,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycling Coalition. “This requires a real traffic study.”
The board told Hop Kiln that it has six months to remove three trailers that were brought in for offices.
Hop Kiln is to return on Aug. 16 with plans for a production facility that would replace the one that now has an unpermitted awning, tent structure and fermenting tank.