Under the noses of citizens, a private event center in disguise is close to approval for construction in the heart of our Sonoma Baylands. After the 50-year-old Black Point Sports Club was forced to relocate, it was acquired by a high-profile local developer. Darius Anderson and Kenwood Investments propose to turn a modest club on the new location, a thousand acre hay farm fronting on Hwy 37 at the mouth of Sonoma Creek, into a playground for the very rich.
The gun club they acquired was approved subject to the condition that “membership that will be open to the public, and any requirement or fee charged for membership will be reasonable.” However, current membership fees are $65,000, and corporate memberships are $132,000. Reasonable? Sounds like a good place to test out your powerful air rifles.
Approval of the present gun club also required that recreational use of the land by the public not be “unduly limited,” but the property is gated, with a sign identifying it as Wing and Barrel Gun Club. On the club’s website this statement gives the lie to any intention of including the public: “We had an opportunity to create the most incomparable, hospitality-driven private hunting club in America.”
Expansion plans scheduled for a Board of Zoning Adjustments hearing this Thursday, November 16 would add a three-story, 20,000 plus sq ft club house to the existing 8500 sq ft. The new structure includes a full-service 13,000 sq. ft. restaurant open year round, restaurant kitchen plus demonstration kitchen, as well as a whiskey bar, gun store, hunting gear store, cigar store, wine store, pro shop, and 50 heated dog kennels. There is a 25-acre clay pigeon shooting range with an 85 ft tower, and hunting fields will be stocked with cage-raised partridge, chukar and quail. A fly-casting pond is planned.
All of the above clearly represents a change of use under the existing Land Extension zoning on the property, making “commercial” the primary use, and “agriculture” secondary.
The developer claims that there will be “no special events.” However the project website advertises parties, cooking classes, and monthly events by the 15 winemaker members. And members, including corporations, have unlimited rights to gatherings of any size when they choose. Current membership is at almost 600.
The project presents a high-risk traffic hazard on the already highly impacted Hwy 37, as the actual numbers of members and guests enter and exit the property. Other unanswered questions include the adequacy of sewage disposal and a serious environmental concern. The property is located where 15,000 acres of wetlands have been preserved as a public trust. Millions of tax monies have been spent for wildlife and habitat protection. The negative impact of shooting in this sensitive area where every effort has been made to attract and protect wildlife is indisputable.
We are incredulous that so many people have bought into a private club which is four feet below San Francisco Bay sea level, with a questionable well water source to support the many services. And when the improvements are underwater, will the private owners and members expect a bail-out by the government?
Since they learned of the project, local conservation organizations have questioned many aspects of it, but their concerns have been unanswered. A stream of outdated documents from 2012 and largely misrepresented professional assessments has been quietly moving through Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) staff to a manager sign-off at county offices in support of the “expansion” of the original club. On January 27 of this year PRMD published Final Conditions of Approval.
This was appealed by Tom Rusert of Sonoma Nature, and Sue Smith, a local rancher. A committee including Kathy Pons of Valley of the Moon Alliance, Meg Beeler of Sonoma Mountain Preservation, Norman Gilroy and Ted Eliot has joined the appellants in their opposition to the project. In late September PRMD completed a 46-page “Mitigated Negative Declaration” which, pursuant to CEQA, and based on material assembled by Kenwood consultants, concluded that the project posed no significant environmental problems. The appellants did not receive this document from the County, and only learned of it accidentally, too late for the comment deadline.
The hearing is scheduled for 1 pm Thursday, November 16, despite the appellants’ request for a postponement. As of November 9, the PRMD staff report to the Board of Zoning Adjustments was not available. In the wake of the fires, the County staff clearly has higher priorities than this luxury development.
–Sun Editorial Board