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[whitespace] Business owners disagree with city on winery expansion plan

Saratoga--Until now, public discussion in Saratoga about the Mountain Winery has ranged from confusion over who owns it, to frustration over rumored expansion plans and the concerts' effect on surrounding residents.

That was until March 23 when at a Saratoga Business Development Council meeting, Bella Saratoga owner Bill Cooper and Cooper-Garrod Vineyards owner Bill Cooper--the two are not related--both told the group that they don't fully approve of the city's response to the ever-changing situation at the winery. The comments were made during a discussion about the new ownership of the Mountain Winery.

City Councilmember John Mehaffey serves as chairman of the SBDC and Councilmember Nick Streit and City Manager Larry Perlin also participated in last week's business discussion. The two councilmembers told the group that they're always open to comment, and that so far the only opinions they've heard are from the outspoken residents who live near the winery and don't want it to expand.

The two Coopers were talking about the letter signed by Mayor Jim Shaw, and sent to Santa Clara County Planning Commission Chairman Terry Trumbull March 9.

Much of the letter protests the winery's constant operations without a conditional-use permit. In the 40-year span the winery has held concerts, it has never had the proper permits from the county to do so.

Both Bill Coopers said they support that protest, but it's the end of the letter they didn't like. It states that the City Council is opposed "to any further intensification of activities at the Mountain Winery." It continues, stating that traffic and noise impacts are troubling to Saratoga residents.

True in many cases, both Coopers said, but the winery's activities also make for good business in the city on concert days. Even on days when concerts aren't held, they said, people come back to Saratoga to dine and shop, especially in the Village, because of the exposure the businesses receive from those driving through on the way to a show.

The Cooper-Garrod Winery owner also said he and some neighbors actually enjoy hearing the music bounce off of the hill and into his mountain home on warm summer evenings. Cooper said that while he can sympathize with neighbors who live there and have to deal with traffic and noise problems, their houses were built long after the winery began holding concerts and they're the ones who chose to live near such a venue.

Just two weeks ago, local developer Bill Hirschman announced that he and a group of investors had completed the transaction of the winery from Ravi Kumra. Hirschman, along with his wife and two other investors bought the winery for an undisclosed amount.

So far, Hirschman has indicated that he intends to finish the expansion job proposed by Kumra years ago, including installing 750 additional seats at the main winery venue. To do so, an extensive environmental impact report will need to be completed, which will allow for public comment on expansion plans. He has also said he intends to file appropriate paperwork for a use permit by the end of March.

Streit and Mehaffey both welcomed the comments and urged the business group to attend City Council meetings to more publicly share their views. Mehaffey, however, said that for now he agrees with property owners on the hill who have to deal with the onslaught of hundreds of cars that sometimes make it nearly impossible just to arrive or leave from home.

"I can understand the residents' concern," the Village restaurant owner Cooper said. "It creates some cumbersome traffic, and Pierce Road is heavily impacted. My problem was with the last paragraph of the letter."

Cooper also said that he intended to take the matter up with the Chamber of Commerce board of directors at its next meeting.

Outgoing Chamber Executive Director Sheila Arthur said that she welcomes anything at the winery or in Saratoga that translates to better business.

"It has been Saratoga's claim to fame for so many years," Arthur said. "It's our tourist attraction, and the hills are alive with music. Isn't [expansion] called 'progress?' We need to stay quaint, and we need to stay unique, but we've got an opportunity there."
Steve Enders

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