Plans for Chateau Sonoma—a three-story, luxury hotel and restaurant complex on West Napa Street—drew a big crowd to a public study session Thursday night. Many of the speakers opposed the project planned for the Plaza vicinity, based on concerns about traffic and community compatibility, while others said the venture would bring "dignity" and "respect" to the downtown and create jobs.
The complex would include a 59-unit hotel with French architectural influences, two restaurants, a health club and spa, retail and office space, event center, outdoor cafes and a parking area. Two buildings—the current Chateau Sonoma antique store and the Sonoma Index-Tribune—would need to be torn down and others constructed to bring the vision into being.
The project sponsor is Kenwood Investments, whose founder and CEO is Darius Anderson, majority shareholder of the Index-Tribune newspaper. At the special meeting of the Planning Commission, Kenwood's president Bill Hooper said the project's benefits would include job creation and hospitality industry internships. He said many "green" aspects, including rainwater recycling and vegetated roof features, had been factored in.
Chateau Sonoma is consistent with the commercial land use designation in the General Plan, according to a report by Planning Director David Goodison. However, some aspects, such as historic preservation, design compatibility and traffic issues will need to be reviewed, he said. Due to the size of the project, its location in the Historic District Overlay zone and its proximity to the Plaza and Plaza National Landmark District, the project will receive "heightened scrutiny with respect to design and visual compatibility," he said. The proposed demolitions will need the approval of the Design Review Commission, and there will be an independent peer review of Kenwood's studies of all the buildings' potential historic significance. Kenwood found that the Lynch building was historically significant, for example.
Some residents spoke in support, saying the project will bring respect, dignity and an international flair to the downtown.
However, others talked of the project becoming a major traffic hazard.
"I am adamantly opposed to putting a stoplight in front of our plaza," one woman said. "I think this project will require this and it violates the history of our town. When people come into Sonoma, they want to see a country town, with some sophistication. "
Another woman said, "Sonoma is the Andersons' town as well and I think they'll do a good job."
Kenwood representatives talked of using "real materials" such as hand crafted plaster and terra cotta tile to create an appearance of "dignity and solidity."
However, one resident questioned whether more restaurants are needed and another expressed sadness over the height of the buildings potentially blocking the town's mountain view. One speaker asked how the project might affect the town's sewer and water resources.
Many speakers who addressed the Planning Commission had to stand in the packed Community Meeting Room's lobby, waiting their turn, while others watched the session on the lobby's closed circuit television.
No direction was taken by the commission in a general discussion of the issues.
The public will have many more opportunities to weigh in on the project. The next steps include an initial study of any potential environmental impact, a draft Environmental Impact Report, a review by the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, a Planning Commission review and certification of the draft EIR, a use permit review, a review of the demolition permit and an architectural review. Interested citizens will be able to attend public hearings at every stage.
To see the full staff report on this project, presented at Thursday's meeting, click here to go to the city of Sonoma website.
What do you think about the proposed Chateau Sonoma complex? Tell us in the comments.