Plans for a new North Coast winery can move ahead after the Coastal Commission on Thursday, April 15, denied an appeal seeking to overturn county approval for the Stolo Winery on a rural road through the foothills east of Cambria.
Currently, Harmony Cellars, just off Highway 1 south of Cambria, is the only winery with onsite sales and a tasting facility in the San Luis Obispo County coastal zone, according to a Coastal Commission staff member.
Citing concerns that the commercial enterprise would change the rural character of the area, increase traffic and degrade the watershed, among other issues, Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust, LandWatch San Luis Obispo County and Kirsten Fiscalini had appealed the county’s approval of plans for the Stolo Winery at 3770 Santa Rosa Creek Road, 1.6 miles from Main Street.
The new winery would be allowed to do tastings and sales, but won’t be permitted to host special events or large tour groups. The project would include a grape processing and bottling facility, a tasting room, office and related improvements. The Stolos would extensively restore the creek’s riparian corridor. All development would be at least 100 feet from the creek and habitat.
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The 53.3-acre site currently has a home and barn on it. The revised, phased, agriculturally themed project calls for disassembling, moving and restoring the historic barn, clustering all structural development on the north side of the road and away from the creek.
The Stolo proposal indicates annual water use for up to 10,000 cases of wine would be significantly less than that used for irrigated row crops, the property’s historic use. Harmony Cellars produces about 5,500 cases annually, according to its website.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board must also sign off on the project.
What kind of road is it?
After three years of negotiations between commission staff and the Stolo family and their consultants and several project redesigns, the major remaining point of contention was if that stretch of Santa Rosa Creek Road is officially considered a “collector road.”
The county’s Local Coastal Program say winery tasting rooms and retail sales facilities can’t be too far away from relatively heavily traveled collector or arterial road. The rule is intended to help preserve the rural character of agricultural areas.
The coastal program doesn’t designate that portion of Santa Rosa Creek Road as a road that “collects” traffic on its way to an arterial byway. However, Commissioner Katcho Achadjian, who is also a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, presented an October 2009 letter from County Public Works to a Stolo consultant saying that department does consider the winding road to be a collector road for traffic heading to Main Street.
“It sure looks like a collector road and acts like a collector road,” said Commissioner Patrick Kruer. “But it’s not on a county map” as a collector road.
Cambria rancher and historian Dawn Dunlap testified as to the historic use of Santa Rosa Creek Road by miners, loggers, cattle ranchers, dairymen and gravel-truck operators, among others. “It’s a working road,” she concluded.
“Charlene and I are very thankful of the outcome,” Don Stolo said in a message
passed through an intermediary. “We are most grateful to all of the wonderful people from the community who took the time to go to Ventura to support us by speaking in favor of our winery and tasting room.”
“Everybody won something,” said Rick Hawley of Greenspace. “The environment will be largely protected and the Stolo’s will do a nice job.”
He predicted that more wineries would be proposed along the road.
“I think it’s great,” said Jim Bahringer of Cambria, owner of the Fog’s End Bed & Breakfast near the intersection of Santa Rosa Creek Road and Main Street. “This town needs as much support commerce-wise as possible. If citizens want great restaurants and shops here … we need tourists to help us support the infrastructure and the merchants.”