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[whitespace] City explores the possibility of annexing the Mt. Winery

Saratoga--The city of Saratoga should consider annexing the Mountain Winery and it needs more time to do so, the mayor recently told county planning commissioners.

Speaking on the city's behalf, Mayor Stan Bogosian asked the Santa Clara County Planning Commission to extend from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 its public comment period on the winery's draft enviromental-impact report. He made this request during the department's Dec. 2 hearing on the draft EIR for the winery's conditional-use permit and architectural and site approval (ASA) applications.

County Planning Director Ann Draper did not formally extend the comment period, but she will allow the city an extra month to address annexation specifically, said Terry Trumbull, county planning commissioner.

According to Saratoga Community Development Director James Walgren, the city will submit its formal, written comment on the draft EIR by Dec. 15.

Bogosian said annexation may be the best idea for Saratoga and the winery owners because most of the winery's environmental impacts, such as traffic and noise, affect Saratoga. Only 75 of the winery's 580 acres are located within city limits, but most of the winery's neighbors are Saratoga residents.

According to Bogosian, the county's permit process may be long and tedious for the winery, which is a potential source of sales tax for the city, too.

The procedure for annexing to Saratoga unincorporated county land is addressed in state law and implemented by the county. First, the city must to ask to annex the land. Then, the five-member Local Agency Formation Commission--which comprises two county supervisors, two city council members from throughout the county and one public representative--may require that certain city services, such as sewer service, be extended to the property. The Mountain Winery case is complex because there is a single landowner who can veto any decision, Trumbull said.

According to Nancy Bussani, president of the Mountain Winery, the owners are not prepared to comment on annexation at this time. She said that the winery's partners will meet Dec. 16 to discuss the issue.

Trumbull said that, if the owners want Saratoga to annex the winery, the process will be easy. If the owners oppose annexation, the county technically could deny the winery's request for a conditional-use permit.

"The county can encourage annexation, but I don't think we would ever say no to the conditional-use permit for current uses," Trumbull said. He said it is difficult for the county to force annexation.

Trumbull said he agrees with Bogosian that Saratoga should annex the winery. He said only Saratoga residents have taken any interest in activities at the winery during the eight years he has served on the county Planning Commission.

"It's better for the winery and Saratoga citizens to have decisions made locally," Trumbull said.

Winery neighbor Rick Denton said he is neutral on the issue. "There are more questions than there are answers right now," he said, adding that a cost-benefit analysis of annexation would be valuable.

The draft EIR, prepared by a consultant selected by the county, outlines potential effects of the proposed use permit and ASA and lists mitigation measures for those effects. Although the use permit and ASA would legalize the type of events hosted by the winery for more than 40 years, the permit's approval would not allow any new uses on the property. According to the county zoning ordinance, the winery's Hillside zoning allows the current uses, as long as the owners obtain a conditional-use permit from the county. According to the draft EIR, any environmental impacts of the winery can be mitigated to the point they are insignificant.

The draft EIR intends only to legalize current activities, but it also discusses expansion and improvements initiated by a previous owner, the details of which are not final. Winery owners have no set plans for expansion, but they aim to increase the number of concert bowl seats from 1,750 to 2,500, build new performer bungalows and relocate the kitchen, which means expanding the winery building by 1,500 square feet. But even if the use permit and site approval applications are approved, winery owners would have to repeat the architecture and site approval process for any expansion.
Kara Chalmers

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