Planning Commission denies Cooperage owner request for vacation rental and tasting room

Posted on April 19, 2024 by Sonoma Sun

In a unanimous 7-0 vote at its meeting of April 18, Sonoma’s Planning Commission denied the request of the owner of the historic Cooperage building on 1st Street West to allow a vacation rental and wine tasting room.

The Cooperage building, owned by Leslie and Mac McQuown, owners of Stone Edge Farm, has undergone a complete rebuild and restoration after suffering damage in a 2006 earthquake centered in Napa, CA. Previously home to an ice-making business near the turn of the twentieth century, the building has been used as a barrel-making cooperage, and occupied as a residence and artist studio. The restoration project took five years, and included the creation of an ADU, swimming pool, and upstairs residence. An artesian well was unexpectedly discovered during the restoration and has been preserved.

In 2018, the property owners obtained permission to include a “lifestyle store” in their plans, part of provisions in the development code pertaining to the adaptive reuse of historic buildings to help offset the cost of restoration and making them safe. At that time, neither wine sales nor a vacation rental was requested, and both uses were specifically prohibited.

The recent request to amend the permit granted in 2018 included both previously excluded uses. Uses granted run with the property, not the property owner, so any subsequent sale of the property, which is intended by the McQuowns at this time, would include the right to such uses.

After listening to the applicant’s representatives, the commission heard from one dozen members of the public, many of them neighbors, all of whom opposed the request for an amendment. The City Attorney, David Ruderman, provided guidance to the commission on some legal issues the requested amendment raised.

Ultimately, after nearly two hours used to consider the applicant’s request, the seven-member commission leaned heavily on the negative impact granting the amendment would have on the residential neighbors and neighborhood. Use of the swimming pool, an addition to the project not included in the original application, was cited as an example of how outdoor noise might affect the neighborhood. A vacation rental for up to six people, it was noted, may in itself create potential noise.

Originally supported by neighbors, the rehabilitation of the building and the prospect of it being used as an occasional residence by its owner was welcomed. The prospect of a succession of vacation rental tenants, on the other hand, made both neighbors and the commission members too uncomfortable. Similarly, the idea of a wine tasting room was unpopular. The building is located in a residential zone, and commercial uses, while allowed under a conditional use permit, did not gain commission approval.

All members of the commission expressed their admiration for the quality of work and design of the Cooperage rebuild, as did members of the public. The building rebuild cost over $12 million and is currently for sale in the range of nearly $8 million. Owner plans to occupy the Cooperage have now been abandoned.

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