A Trailer Park? In Bennett Valley? The Bennett Valley Plan, Part 1

by Chris Gralapp

Did you know that a trailer park is slated to be developed at the foot of Bennett Peak, near Woodside Estates? This was the question posed by Dr. Brad Lundborg, when my dad answered the phone.

The question, which was asked of many BV residents in the fall of 1970, was like a shot heard round the world—and for our family, who had fled the sprawl of Rincon Valley in the mid 1960’s, it was a call to arms. We had moved to peaceful, rural Bennett Valley to escape this very problem of unbridled growth, strip malls, trailer parks, labyrinths of cul-de-sacs and housing tracts that were spilling across the county. Even then we understood the slippery slope of reckless non-planning, and knew that if one trailer park got planted, we might soon be overwhelmed by a wave of unrestrained ticky-tacky development.

This phone call signaled the beginnings of a document that would protect our valley from these kinds of troublesome, carelessly devised projects. An alliance of Bennett Valley residents of all political stripes, from physicians to farmers, united to help guide our own future by drafting a far-sighted plan that would keep Bennett Valley beautiful and livable. Our families packed the supervisors’ chamber, and the core group laid out well-reasoned arguments for retaining our open spaces, to protect our environment, and to keep the quiet beauty that they enjoyed and has endured to this day. The supervisors listened--and they heard. The document that arose from those discussions was the Bennett Valley Specific Plan (now the Bennett Valley Area Plan), a product of intensive interaction and cooperation between the local residents and the County. After a building moratorium was declared for several years, and a thorough Environmental Impact Report undertaken, the mutually agreed-upon plan was crafted for, and adopted by, the Board of Supervisors in 1979. Incidentally, the Bennett Valley Community Association was also established in December 1970 by the founders of the plan.

What does this document say? Why is it important? Every BV resident should become familiar with the Bennett Valley Area Plan—after all, we choose to live here in the Valley because of its beauty, serenity and open feeling, and we all have a stake in preserving the precious environment we share.

The goals of this plan, unique to our community are: (1) to retain and enhance the rural character of the 25 square mile area of Bennett Valley, and (2) to reflect the environmental and economic constraints, suitabilities and sensitivities of the area in the determination of the location and intensity of development.

Broadly written, the plan lays out carefully considered policies that guide land use,

low density housing, conservation of natural resources, open space, roads, scenic

corridors, public safety, prohibition of commercial development and much more. It

is the foundation for much of the Planning Department’s decision making. The

County Design Review Board relies on the plan to guide new construction.

Environmental protections are built in to the plan to preserve water resources,

riparian habitat and open vistas, including skylines.

When travelers move through BV and admire the landscapes and open vistas, they

probably don’t even wonder why it retains this feeling. But it is no accident that

Bennett Valley is not chock-a-block with housing tracts—it is not dumb luck that

wildlife thrives here--it is by design, thanks to the enduring guidance of the

Bennett Valley Area Plan. Conceived over 50 years ago, time-honored and

working hard for us for over 40 years, the BVAP has served us well. I think of it

as our own Constitution, that has guided generations of wise land use decision-

making here.

Next time you travel on Bennett Valley Road, just imagine that trailer park, or that

cookie cutter housing tract that might have been, and thank the visionary people

who created the plan, not only for us, but for the valley itself.

The Bennett Valley Area Plan can be found here (link).

Active Project: Update the Bennett Valley Area Plan

Frequently Asked Questions?

What does the Plan actually do?

BVAP was approved by the Board of Supervisors over 40 years ago (1979) to lay out guidelines for land use specific to Bennett Valley. It is a unique document which specifies how the land is utilized, to encourage traditionalagriculture, keep density low, and to promote and protect environmental preservation and aesthetic assets. It seeks to ensure that any development would be supported by appropriate infrastructure.

How is the Plan enforced?

The residential construction piece of the BVAP is overseen by Sonoma County Design Review in Permit Sonoma. Other parts are not as well enforced, and that is an issue for discussion. BVCA is the contact entity for the county with regard to all permit applications in BV.

How is the Plan updated?

BVAP can be updated when the General Plan is updated, ~every ten years, to maintain consistency with the GP. Updating is time consuming and expensive. The BVAP has been updated three times in relatively minor ways, most recently in 2011.

How does it affect me?

Everyone who enjoys the ‘country feel’ of Bennett Valley is affected by the BVAP, which specifies broad protections for the rural character and the sensitive environment of valley. Also, anyone who applies for new construction or a major remodel is subject to design review.

You can read the latest version of the Plan here