At a three-hour-plus meeting Thursday night, Sonoma’s Planning Commission certified the Final EIR for the Napa Street Hotel proposed by Kenwood Investments. The vote of the commission was 5-1, with commission member Bill Willers in the minority.
An EIR is required by California’s Environmental Quality Act in order to identify environmental issues of significance and recommend mitigation measures to lessen that significance is any is found.
The 62-room hotel, spa and restaurant’s EIR has been in the works for over a year, and involved the efforts of multiple consultants selected by the City of Sonoma to evaluate the project. Several public hearings were held, during which the concerns of the public were raised and those comments and concerns, including written comments, are now an official part of the public record.
After a one-hour presentation by the City Planner David Goodison and a ten-minute review of the proposal by the project architect, Michael Ross, during last night’s hearing, the public again addressed the commission; supporters included several members of out-of-town headquartered construction trade unions, the previous owner of the property, and various other supporters; their comments, however, were rarely directed to the specifics of the EIR and mostly related to job creation. Project opponents also spoke, and largely kept their comments to matters associated with the EIR, including the lack of sufficient project alternatives including the required housing component, traffic and proposed street improvements, historical analysis of the “tin-sided” building to be removed, and the project’s visual character and its effects on the historic Plaza area.
In its deliberation the commission considered a number of the concerns raised by the public, and asked the City Planner and the assembled consultants for their views. Few questions were asked by the commission members themselves; a few commission members had virtually none, though the full EIR is hundreds of pages long and the studies, appendices and submitted public comments combined are well over 1,000 pages. Commission member Willers was alone in expressing the opinion that the EIR was insufficient and more work needed to be done, particularly in providing additional project alternatives for consideration. The final vote of 5-1 reflected the rejection of his concerns by his fellow commissioners.
The next step in the approval process is the Use Permit hearing, which will be held on the 27th. At that hearing, the matter of the housing requirement will again be taken up, but this time outside of the discussion of the4 EIR. The land use designation of commercial requires that 50% of the square footage on a project of this size be devoted to housing, and Kenwood Investments has indicated it will ask for a waiver of this requirement. The commission may grant such a waiver, and it does not qualify as a variance. Since the project was first proposed, housing in Sonoma has become a much more pressing concern, and allowing the waiver may prove to be contentious.
All decisions of the Planning Commission may be appealed to the City Council. At this time, it is unknown if an appeal of the EIR will be filed, which must occur within 15 days of the day of the certification of the EIR.