Delays and revisions go back three years; neighbor files new suit

SANTA ROSA – A $20 million-plus beverage-distribution center is under construction near the Sonoma County airport.

What Mesa Beverage Co. Inc. expected would be a straightforward 18-month process to buy 19.5 acres designated in the county General Plan for industrial uses and build about 160,000 square feet of warehouse, distribution and vehicle maintenance facilities has stretched into its third year after two appeals of project approvals and five versions of the key environmental-review document.

“This is a big morale boost for the company to see this building built,” said Mark Herculson, manager of Mesa Beverage Co. Inc. and executive vice president of its San Diego-based parent company Liquid Investments.

Dirt started moving Nov. 10 on 12.5 acres of the site, located at 3200 N. Laughlin Road north of Santa Rosa, and the concrete pad is expected to be poured this month. Completion is targeted for mid-2009. Davey Architecture of San Diego and Del Starrett Architects of Santa Rosa designed the structure, and Lusardi Construction Co., also of San Diego, is the general contractor.

Mesa has been looking to relocate from its current 94,000-square-foot leased facility nearby at 205 Concourse Blvd. since it acquired Golden State Distributing in 2005 and purchased the North Laughlin property that December. In Sonoma and Marin counties, Mesa distributes beers by Miller, Coors, Heineken and local Lagunitas and Mendocino as well as coolers, a few wine brands, bottled water and Red Bull energy drinks.

The current lease expires in May 2009.

Mesa filed a design review permit application in July 2006, and the first public hearing was held 11 months later before the county Design Review Committee. The committee unanimously accepted the mitigated negative declaration of environmental effects from the project and approved the permit in August 2007.

Neighboring property owner Jean McMullen appealed that decision.

In February of this year the county Planning Commission in a 5-0 vote upheld the committee’s decision. Another neighbor, Beverly Schenck, appealed that decision to the county Board of Supervisors.

In the middle of this year, with a year left to go on its lease and project costs mounting, Mesa started to explore alternatives to building, according to Mr. Herculson. One option explored was the purchase of the 289,000-square-foot Beam Wine Estates warehouse on Shiloh Road near the north end of the airport industrial area and leasing the remainder.

On Oct. 21, the Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected the second appeal.

Challenges may not be over. On Nov. 18, Ms. Schenck sued the county in Superior Court, claiming that county officials didn’t thoroughly comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The suit cited traffic, air quality, flooding of her property and water quality in the adjacent Mark West Creek.

Ms. Schenck in 1986 purchased her property, which includes a 150-year-old home. In February of this year, she testified before the Planning Commission that her real estate agent told her the property to the north would not be developed commercially, according to county documents.

On Dec. 9, her attorney, Bill Kopper of Davis, argued before Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert Boyd for a 15-day halt in construction to address the contentions.

Mr. Kopper could not be reached for comment.

Mesa’s attorney, Tony Cohen of Clement Fitzpatrick & Kenworthy in Santa Rosa, argued that such stoppage, with heavy rains forecast and trenches dug for the stormwater-management system would be a greater threat to water quality in Mark West Creek.

Judge Boyd rejected a temporary restraining order, and the case is pending.

“This is purely one person attempting to assert personal interests against a property next door,” Mr. Cohen said of the lawsuit.

Reconfigurations of the project over two years show that Mesa took Ms. Schenck’s concerns seriously, according to Mr. Cohen.

“We’ve made a lot of changes,” Mr. Herculson said.

First, the fueling station originally planned to accompany the maintenance operations, like at sister Liquid Investments operations in San Diego and Colorado, was dropped as a condition of Planning Commission approval.

To limit noise and lighting disturbance of the adjoining properties, truck traffic and lighting was oriented on the north side of the building, and an eight-foot-high soundwall will be built between the facility and Ms. Schenck’s property to the south.

After a Board of Supervisors public hearing on the appeal in May of this year, county planning staff called for analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, as increasingly is required under state law. To lower its “carbon footprint,” Mesa will coat the facility with a “cool roof” to reflect solar heat and lower energy use for cooling, explore a large rooftop photovoltaic power system and replace the dozen and a half propane-powered forklifts with electric versions.

Some of this is part of a larger effort by Liquid Investments to lower its corporate footprint and also retrofit or replace big-rig trucks under new state diesel particulate and nitrous oxide emissions rules. Along with that, Mesa is testing diesel-electric trucks and cars.

For more information, call 707-544-0639 or visit www.mesabev.com.