A long-proposed luxury resort in Kenwood is closer than ever to being built after Sonoma County supervisors signed off on designs for the facility Tuesday, 14 years after their predecessors approved the project.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously upheld last year’s vote by planning commissioners in favor of plans for the 50-room inn, 125-seat restaurant, and spa off Highway 12 opposite Lawndale Road. The board denied an appeal from the Valley of the Moon Alliance, which has consistently challenged the project.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area and voted to clear the way for the development, nevertheless acknowledged the entrenched opposition it faces in her district.
“It would be an understatement to suggest this would be a controversial project,” Gorin said. “I’m so glad the project seems to be in very responsible hands, and you’ve demonstrated a number of ways you’ve improved the project over the years.”
The Sonoma Valley resort has been in the works for more than a decade and a half and was originally approved by supervisors in 2004. In the years since, the project survived court challenges, stalled amid the recession and then changed ownership in 2014. The current owner is a subsidiary of a Chinese development group.
The Valley of the Moon citizens’ group has been contesting the resort since its inception, most recently by appealing the county Planning Commission’s affirmation of the designs over concerns about water use, traffic and nighttime lighting, among other issues.
Supervisors imposed several new conditions on the project as part of Tuesday’s vote, including a tighter limit on groundwater use, a requirement for submission of an emergency evacuation plan prior to opening and a mandate to close the restaurant’s outdoor seating at 10 p.m. during standard time and 10:30 p.m. during daylight savings.
Supervisors also previously approved a 10,000-case winery and an 11-home subdivision for the site, but only designs for the inn, restaurant and spa component — together called the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn — were approved Tuesday.
Construction on the resort is intended to start later this year once building permits are secured and should take two years to complete, said Les Perry, a Santa Rosa attorney representing the project’s owners, Tohigh Property Investment. A subsidiary of Chinese developer Oceanwide Holdings, it bought the site in 2014. The project was originally proposed by Bob Piccinini, the late chairman and CEO of Save Mart Supermarkets.
Roger Peters, a board member of the Valley of the Moon Alliance, relayed a number of lingering concerns about the planned resort while critiquing the project before supervisors Tuesday. Sticking points included controls on amplified music and parking and also the environmental impact of guests traveling to and from the inn, which he believed had not been sufficiently studied.
“This is a project that has a significant impact on greenhouse gases, and it has an impact on traffic in Sonoma Valley,” Peters said. “The traffic in Sonoma Valley has been an issue that badly needs attention.”
But Perry urged supervisors to focus on reviewing the resort’s design — the primary issue they were considering. He said the project’s fundamentals remained unchanged from when the board sanctioned the overall project in 2004.