Suit challenges approval of rural event center

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The issue of whether event centers will be allowed in rural Yolo County isn’t settling quietly into the sunset.

A lawsuit was filed on Nov. 14 in Yolo Superior Court against the county, challenging the adequacy of the environmental analysis cited when the decision was made Oct. 11 to approve the Field & Pond event center in rural Winters.

According to Beth Gabor, public information officer for Yolo County, the lawsuit specifically seeks to overturn a decision by Yolo County to approve a use permit for Field & Pond’s event center on County Road 29.

The suit, which was filed against the county but also lists Field & Pond owners Dahvie James and Philip Watt as real parties in interest, claims that the use permit is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, provisions in the Williamson Act and in the county zoning code, and fails to address impacts to traffic, agriculture and endangered species.

The plaintiffs are the Yolo County Farm Bureau, the Farmland Protection Alliance and Tuleyome.

“I am not surprised that this litigation has been filed,” said Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who represents Winters. “There are strong perspectives on all sides regarding siting events centers in rural settings and at this specific location.”

He noted that he and Supervisor Duane Chamberlain dissented when the Board of Supervisors approved the project and certified the adequacy of the final environmental analyses in October on a 3-2 vote.

Chris Scheuring, an environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation, is representing the Yolo County Farm Bureau in the case, and says concerns over agriculture are the main concerns of the lawsuit. The California Farm Bureau is not a party to the suit.

“The proposed event center would be an illegal use in the middle of an agricultural landscape that is essentially commercial in nature,” Scheuring said. “The project would have a number of environmental impacts that the county did not adequately study before approving it. The project will conflict and interfere with the ongoing agricultural activities on land that surrounds it.”

He said the Field & Pond owners are not listed as defendants, but as real parties in interest, which means that their attorneys have the right to comment when the case goes to trial.

Bob Schneider, senior policy director for Tuleyome, notes that his organization is focused mainly on conservation and environmental issues.

“Tuleyome is concerned about the county’s commitment to implementation of the conservation element in the Yolo County General Plan,” Schneider said. “We object when the county approves projects without complying with state environmental law.”

Tuleyome believes a full environmental impact report was required for the project, rather than a lesser form of environmental documentation called a negative declaration, board member Chad Roberts explained.

Roberts noted that environmental concerns span a range of topics.

“Yolo County was presented with substantial evidence that the proposed project will have significant environmental impacts on biological resources, agricultural resources and practices, traffic and circulation, and water quality, he said. “Given this evidence, an EIR is required in order to comply with state environmental law.

“Whether the project will have significant impacts on other environmental concerns cannot be evaluated based on the level of assessment conducted by the county.

“The intent of CEQA is to assure the public and other agencies with responsibility under state law that a local agency, such as Yolo County, has fully considered a project’s possible impacts on public resources and concerns and reduced those impacts to the maximum extent feasible before approving a project, a responsibility that Yolo County has not met for this project,” he added.

Land-use attorney Osha Meserve represents the third plaintiff, the Farmland Protection Alliance, which formed as a response to the Field & Pond issue, and consists of private citizens, farmers, business owners and neighbors of the project, many of whom publicly objected to the approval at meetings of the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.

She said the group represents a variety of people with a number of concerns, and noted that the decision to allow such a venue in an agricultural area presents “statewide implications.”

Business co-owner James expressed gratitude for local support of Field & Pond, including the Winters community, Yolo County residents, law enforcement, county staff and the Board of Supervisors, and emphasizes the positive aspects of his venue.

“Field & Pond is now one of the only two licensed venues in Winters, and one of the few luxury B&B offerings in the county,” he said. “Ultimately, we firmly believe that this lawsuit, albeit consistent with all other malicious acts levied by the project opponents, is unfounded and lacks validity.

“While the opponents have a legal right to once again challenge the authority and decision of the Board of Supervisors, they were unsuccessful in not just one Board of Supervisors hearing, but two, in proving the merits of their case.

“Ultimately, we — along with our attorneys, and the support of county staff, the Board of Supervisors, and the head legal counsel for Yolo County — are prepared and committed to defend and uphold the existing approval, conditions and mitigations for this project,” James said.

— Reach Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com

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