Kati Spenser, of Twisted Union Winery, points out possible bike path routes through Sonoita and Elgin during the Oct. 24 community meeting to discuss the ‘Wine and Cuisine Tourism District’ master plan. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Fewer than two dozen residents met with County consultants at the Sonoita Fairgrounds on Oct. 24 to discuss a “Wine and Cuisine Tourism District” master plan for the Sonoita-Elgin area.

This master plan is part of a larger project that Santa Cruz County is undertaking as part of its Covid-19 recovery strategy, according to District 3 Supervisor Bruce Bracker. The two-year planning program is funded by a $300,000 federal grant and is being overseen by the County’s Community Development department.

The Oct. 24 meeting, held on a weekday afternoon with less than a week’s notice, opened with a short presentation by the three out-of-state consultants hired by the County to facilitate the project.

Attendees, which included winery and restaurant owners as well as local residents, were asked to share their visions for developing the area around the crossroads in Sonoita—referred to as ‘the district’—and, more generally, across the region.

Kati Spenser, from Twisted Union Winery in Elgin, spoke about the need for more flexible commercial kitchen codes for wineries. Other ideas included building bike paths, a motel, multi-family housing, retail shops, a market, a park, a playground, sidewalks, road repairs, incentives for new businesses, a short-term RV park, and a food truck court. The lack of basic infrastructure in the area—sewage, municipal trash pickup, water lines, etc.—was also noted.

Several one-on-one conversations with the consultants centered around the possibility of “overlay districts”—tailored zoning districts which can override existing zoning—beyond the crossroads. Some of the attendees spoke in favor of maintaining the rural zoning now in effect.

“I moved here 18 years ago for the open spaces,” Ron Yospur, of Sonoita, said. Cliff Thompson, of Sonoita, added, “I don’t really need more development. Who will fund this? The County?”

“We were expecting backlash about this,” said Thatch Moyle, a Portland, OR-based land use planner who is one of the consultants working for the County on the project.

“If you were expecting it, why are you here?” asked Elgin rancher Bill Schock.

After the meeting, Moyle told the PRT in an email, “I know there is some hesitation around a potential overlay, but we do want to stress that we have not put any formal analysis or thought to what the overlay would look like. We are at the visioning stage, gathering input from stakeholders, and will be taking a deeper dive into a wine district and potential overlay during the next phase of this project.”

Last spring a proposed zoning code change, similar to an overlay plan, was initiated by Santa Cruz County Planning and Development Director Frank Dillon. It would have allowed the creation of ‘specific zoning plan districts,’ with no minimum or maximum size limits, that could support, he said, “a variety of uses that are not tied to existing underlying zoning.” Opponents feared the loss of protection presently afforded by existing rural zoning restrictions, and the plan was ultimately withdrawn.

Moyle said holding another public meeting to continue the discussion was a possibility, but none has yet been scheduled.

“We will be posting the wine district and any overlay designs on a StoryMap [online],” he said, “and will likely have a comment section allowing stakeholders to weigh in on the proposed boundaries.”

Note: Community members can participate in a five-minute online survey regarding this initiative through Jan. 1, 2024. Go here to share your thoughts on the future of the Sonoita/Elgin region: https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/08ad9b3347644c2aa7e8f897f7463228