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A path forward for Petaluma wine tasting room

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The Petaluma Planning Commission Tuesday approved a 15,800-square-foot downtown wine tasting room after the developer, Adobe Road Winery, proposed several compromises to make the riverfront property accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.

A major sticking point in the proposal’s first pass at the planning commission in July was the project’s lack of public access to the river, a key component for that section of the turning basin in the 1996 Petaluma River Access and Enhancement Plan.

To appease the city’s commissioners, who put their enthusiasm for the project aside and grilled company representatives throughout Tuesday night’s discussion, Adobe Road CEO Kevin Buckler and development director Ross Jones offered several concessions to make up for the deficiencies in public access at their building on the corner of C and First Street.

“We’ve tried really, really hard to get this project approved,” Buckler said.

Rather than building a path along the river that would dead-end at the PG&E substation, Adobe Road proposed a pedestrian and bike path on the First Street side. It would include five pieces of trailside signage, featuring images and information highlighting Petaluma’s history, and eventually connect to the intersection at the bridge.

Adobe Road will also donate $50,000 to assist with the first phase of a pocket park at the end of C Street, which could be expanded to a fishing pier or boardwalk at the city’s discretion.

Despite some tense back and forth, both sides were generally agreeable to each other’s requests. Adobe accepted a cap on the number of events it could hold, and most of the commissioners were amenable to the winery’s lengthier operating hours — which will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily — and its appeal for curbside unloading in the area adjacent to the building during harvest.

However, the greatest point of contention was over a hypothetical pathway along the riverbank. City officials wanted language in the agreement that required Adobe Road to create a conceptual plan that demonstrated how the building site wouldn’t prevent a future multi-use trail from being constructed if the city eventually built a connection.

At one point, Buckler called that stipulation a “deal breaker.”

“If a condition tied to the property forever is that the next tenant that comes, the next owner that comes in, has to give up the entire waterfront walkway … it would really infringe on us being able to sell our project or have any value out of it,” he said.

City officials remained firm, though, and ultimately included the provision as a condition of approval.

“I feel like I’m selling a little bit of Petaluma’s soul (if we don’t do) this,” Commissioner Heidi Bauer said. “The river is our heart and soul. … With this condition, we would have that potential in the future.”

Multiple commission members also expressed concerns about traffic congestion and parking challenges. The winery, sited just north of the theatre district, plans to build 17 on-site spaces, and any spillover will be forced onto the street and into the nearby parking deck, which is usually full, Commissioner Gina Benedetti-Petnic said.

Bauer dispelled some of those questions, pointing to ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft that have become more common in Wine Country. But large events and groups in limousines and buses could still tax the tight corridor during peak hours.

“We can’t park there right now, and now we’re going to bring in events and wine tasting,” Benedetti-Petnic said. “All of it is great stuff – I want this to be successful; I want to see this here. But we have to have a place to put these vehicles.”

The L-shaped building, which takes up about 63 percent of its .58-acre parcel, features a bell tower and incorporates a Spanish style exterior in its design. The riverfront terrace and a motorsports gallery would be the marquee features of the winery.

Adobe Road plans to use the building as its production facility, averaging about 5,000 cases per year.

At the study session on July 24, Buckler said brick oven pizza would be available, and he envisioned a host of possibilities for the kitchen complex, like cooking demonstrations from local chefs.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)