By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A disputed Graton-area winery development has for the second time earned final approval from Sonoma County supervisors, marking the end of a two-year legal battle.
The opponents agreed to end their lawsuit against the project and the county as part of a settlement that ensured many of the changes they had sought. Both sides have since hailed the agreement as a rare compromise in the often protracted legal fights around winery development in the county.
Tuesday’s vote by the Board of Supervisors formalized many of those changes, including limits on wine production, operating hours and events. It also incorporated revisions sought by state regulators, including relocation of a production building to protect a wetland.
The unanimous decision gave the Best family a hard-won go-ahead to build their project, first proposed in 2009 and approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2010.
In addition to the production building, it calls for a small vineyard and tasting room on what is now an apple orchard, one of the few remaining on a highway named for the once-prevalent local crop, the Gravenstein.
Through their attorney, the family declined to comment on the project’s approval.
But the attorney, Clay Clement of Santa Rosa, said they were “pleased to have the controversy behind them” and were “looking forward to building the winery.”
He said he expected construction to start next year.
The original plans drew heavy fire from neighbors and other opponents who said the project was incompatible with the rural area.
They took aim especially at the board’s vote to grant an amendment to the county’s General Plan for the winery. That issue alone dogged west county Supervisor Efren Carrillo throughout his first term and in his recent race for re-election.
He voted in favor of the amendment along with three other board members present in a March 2010 meeting, three months before the winery’s first unanimous approval. Carrillo has continued to defend the original project as appropriate for the location.
Winery opponents have battled against that contention and the claim that they filed an unnecessary lawsuit. It resulted in changes that should have been required at the outset, they said.
“This was not a frivolous lawsuit,” said Thomas Morabito, a neighbor on Atkinson Road and a member of Concerned Citizens for Responsible Land Use, the group behind the court challenge. “This lawsuit resulted in not only good changes for the neighborhood but also for the community at large.”
The revisions incorporated in Tuesday’s final approval include:
Until the end of 2027, a cap on annual production of 26,500 cases and 16 special events per year. After 2027, the owners can apply for higher limits.
A 4 p.m. closing time for the tasting room, instead of 5 p.m.
A prohibition on Sunday operations at the production facility, except during crush.
Relocation of the production building to protect a wetland and limit scenic impacts. The building roofline is to be lowered, from 42 feet to 35 feet.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.