Anyone who's been to the plaza in Downtown Sonoma doesn't have to walk far to take a sip of Sonoma's finest wines.
But it may soon become harder to find a place to sample the goods.
The Sonoma City Council is setting its sites on proposed regulations that could force wine tasting businesses located in the plaza to obtain a use permit, normally required of restaurants, bars or taverns.
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The regulations came before the Sonoma City Planning Commission during its Dec. 13, 2012, meeting in which the commission discussed several issues with the wine tasting businesses.
According to a Sonoma Planning Commission staff report:
- The Police Department has become concerned with the number of establishments that offer alcohol in the plaza. They note that 55 percent of first-time drunk driving arrests, have been generated from these types of businesses. They note that their concern is not about wine tasting businesses per se, but of the total amount of alcohol-serving businesses in the plaza.
- Although considered a retail business, the intensity of the wine tasting business is expressed in seating, rather than square feet, which can lead to some challenges in how staff interprets how parking requirements are being met.
- The wine tasting business have a potential of evolving into bars or taverns, thereby coming under licensing requirements of the Alcohol, Beverage Control. It could also open up different activities at the businesses, which are not in line with the city's definition of wine tasting.
- The increasing number of wine tasting businesses may have an adverse affect on the character of the plaza. Wine tasting facilities are less likely to attract locals.
As it stands, both the city and the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control regulate wine tasting businesses in Sonoma.
The city has thus far classified the wine tasting businesses as 'general retail' (unless the business prepares and serves food more complex than bread and crackers, it would then be required to obtain a use permit), regardless if it’s tied to a specific winery. Classifying the business as general retail makes it a permissible use in the City's Development Code.
ABC however, does make a distinction in wine tasting business that are owned by a specific winery and those that are owned by a third party, which could be offering beer and wines from various sources.
In the former instance, there is no local review of the business and it is allowed to operate under the parent winery's Type 02 license. In the latter type of business, ABC requires the business to go through a permitting process that involves the chief of the Sonoma Police Department, who must make a finding of "public convenience or necessity," if the license is to be issued.
Another important distinction is that the latter license empowers local wine tasting businesses to host activities that go beyond the way that the city defines wine tasting and in line with the events that happen in local bars and taverns.
As far as the business who are already serving wines to thirsty people in the plaza, the Planning Commission offers three options to the city council including: requiring that they obtain a use permit, not requiring a permit but imposing a set of operating procedures or imposing the procedures but only require a permit if a change in the operating procedures was sought.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
The City Council meets Monday night at its chambers located at Community Meeting Room, 177 First Street West, Sonoma. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.