On April 24, 2018, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a significantly reduced plan to expand facilities owned by the Wing and Barrel Hunt Club on a site on Highway 37 at Noble Road in the Baylands area of southeast Sonoma County. The Board’s final approval incorporated terms that were negotiated by a team most of whom are now involved in the formation of Mobilize Sonoma.
Appeal of the application was limited by the fact that the County of Sonoma had issued a Use Permit for a hunt club on the site in 2012 when the Black Point Hunt Club was relocated to the site on Highway 37 so that its original site on Lakeville Highway could be restored as protected wildlife habitat by the Sonoma Land Trust. In 2014, a private organization purchased the club and its property. The Wing and Barrel Hunt Club was established, and a 8,500 sq. ft. clubhouse, hunting fields, kennels and a clay-shooting course were constructed. However, even though all of the original environmental documents anticipated a membership of 300, the club’s management soon reported that the membership had already exceeded 650. Memberships, which were supposed to be accessible to the general public, were being sold for between $50,000 and $65,000, and the hunt club management indicated in its literature that the cost of a membership would rise to $100,000 “when the expanded facilities are in place”. A long list of intended activities consistent with an expensive private club and restaurant was described on the Wing and Barrel website.
In December 2016, a group of three appellants (Sue Smith, Tom Rusert, and Ted Eliot) learned that the staff of the Sonoma County Planning Department was about to approve an extensive expansion plan for the hunt club. The approval was scheduled to occur over the Christmas holiday and without a public hearing. A team was formed to include the appellants plus Norman Gilroy, Meg Beeler, Kathy Pons and, later, Mary McEachron, and an appeal was filed.
Due to the last-minute intervention of the appellants, the County was forced to carry out an extensive and, as it turned out, entirely appropriate, review of the application. That in turn led to a hearing before the County’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) in November of 2017 in which a significant number of conditions of approval were imposed that would otherwise not have been possible if the application had proceeded without a hearing as planned by PRMD. Seeking to fit the design of the clubhouse more accurately to the limited use conditions approved by the BZA, the team filed an appeal with the Board of Supervisors, and made it clear that they were ready to take the issue to Court if a more reasonable solution were not agreed upon. In the months prior to the Board hearing, a settlement was negotiated with the applicant, and on April 24, 2018 the project was approved by the Board of Supervisors with conditions that include:
- Limitations on size and usage of the facility. Club membership is limited to 500, including 425 regular memberships plus 25 corporate memberships that allow use by 3 individuals each. Daily use is limited to 125 persons, and scheduled group activities are limited to 24 per year for groups up to 40 persons including family and guests. Peak activities are to be limited to 31 hunters per weekday, 62 hunters per weekend day.
Service activities (kitchen, food and beverage service, dining room, and pro shop are to be accessory to, and used only in conjunction with, shooting, hunting or fishing activities by members. Hours of operation are limited (7AM – 9PM, March-September; 7AM – 7:30PM October-February). Hunting, shooting and fishing is limited to from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.
No special events are allowed, except one annual Cultural Event subject to a special permit. The facility may not be rented out or be operated as a restaurant. Drop-in visits for other than shooting, hunting, fly casting or fishing are not allowed, and member gatherings may not start or end during the weekday evening peak traffic period on Highway 37, which is from 3 to 7 PM. No group activities may overlap with peak weekend hunting/shooting periods during the hunting season (from 7AM to 12PM), or during the midday peak traffic period (from 12PM to 1PM). No group activities may be scheduled during the four large nearby annual raceway events.
- Reductions of up to 30% in the bulk, footprint and height of the clubhouse: The total size of the clubhouse will be reduced to 18,620 sq. ft. from the 26,802 sq. ft. originally proposed, and the height will be limited to two stories from the three originally proposed. The building footprint will reduced to 12,100 sq. ft., and deed restrictions will prevent further expansion. The team is working with the applicant to ensure that the conditions are met.
- Provisions for public use: Public access to bird hunting fields, clay shooting course and fly-fishing pond is to be available for a reasonable fee on Mon.& Tue. when the clubhouse is closed, and on other days as available. The public day-use price for the bird-hunting fields is limited to $35-$45 per bird.
- Environmental and regulatory conditions: Dark-sky-compliant lighting is required for all new and existing buildings. Groundwater use is to be limited to 540,000 gallons per year, and the owners and their successors are to maintain the levees to ensure life safety. A survey of ground-nesting birds is to be made 14 days prior to start of construction. A deed restriction will preclude future development, and periodic compliance monitoring will be provided.
Several issues were set aside by the Board for reevaluation at the end of two years. They include traffic safety on Highway 37; who pays for reconstruction after a levee failure; and the effects of sea-level rise on a property that is already nine feet below sea level. Even with those omissions, however, the negotiated conditions affirmed by the Board are a very significant step forward from what would have been required had the project been approved without a hearing in December 2016. In making their decision to approve the project as amended by the settlement, the Board members all commented favorably on the effort that had been put in by both the appellants and the applicant to resolve as many of the remaining differences as possible before the hearing. The process was even suggested as a model for others facing similar issues before the Board and other County agencies.