Cloverdale's planned southward growth stirs debate

March 2, 2014

Four years after Cloverdale voters approved the eventual extension of city limits southward to Asti, the debate continues as to whether the city overreached.

The Urban Growth Boundary approved by voters in 2010 - the last for all cities in Sonoma - extends to the small community of Asti, about two miles south of Cloverdale, taking in the site of the historic Italian Swiss Colony winery.

The new growth boundary was supported by 57 percent of the voters, who put aside fear of sprawl and loss of agricultural lands if the city spread that far south.

But some of the old concerns linger as the city prepares to have its adjusted sphere of influence approved at 2 p.m. Wednesday by the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission.

"There are still people in Cloverdale that believe the UGB was too aggressive in extending to Asti," City Manager Paul Cayler said Friday. "Another group believes Asti has traditionally been linked to Cloverdale."

The Greenbelt Alliance, which promotes city-centered, compact growth, approved the growth boundary but had reservations about the sprawl that could ensue by extending city utilities to Asti, Rains Creek and an industrial area.

"The main concern for us is when you bring properties into the sphere of influence, you also bring water and sewer to these areas," said Lana Russell-Hurd, regional representative for the Greenbelt Alliance.

"They're really primed for development and push for speculative development in those areas," she said, adding that there are also concerns about additional pressures on the city's strained water supply.

But Mayor Carol Russell said the city has studied very carefully its planned future boundaries and its ability to service the new territory.

"I'm as concerned as anybody else we grow intelligently. I'm not looking for sprawl," Russell said.

Cloverdale expects to go from its current population of about 8,600 people to around 12,000 by 2025.

But the city is also seeking to extend its sphere of influence - essentially all the lands it intends for future annexation - to more than 440 acres of western hillsides, which were not included in the voter-approved Urban Growth Boundary.

Mayor Russell said it's important the city retain control of the western hills.

"We want to keep it beautiful. To me, preserving those hills and making sure we have influence over them is important not only how we think of ourselves, but there's almost a heritage there, an obligation," she said.

Commission officials have indicated a willingness to include the western hills in the city's sphere, as long as Cloverdale ensures that annexation provides permanent hillside open space.

And when it comes to Asti, the commission's staff draft report says the historic community should be part of Cloverdale only if the city develops a conservation zoning district for the area with permanent conservation easements.

Currently, the old Italian Swiss Colony property is home to Cellar 8 winery, owned by Beringer Blass Wine Estates.

City Council members have long said they wanted to provide the winery the option to expand and create more jobs.

The city said it could be a key economic driver, along with an industrial area to the north.

"The historic Asti area also has the potential to serve as a southern anchor for Cloverdale, attracting tourists and visitors north up the Highway 101 corridor from Healdsburg and Geyserville and ultimately into Cloverdale's downtown core," Assistant City Manager Karen Massey wrote in her report.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or [email protected].)