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EIR looms over boutique winery ordinance four-week delay in supervisors hearing


Last updated 4/3/2008 at Noon

In a best-case scenario for those who wish to see the county’s proposed boutique winery ordinance take effect, the hearing at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has been delayed from March 26 to April 23.

The worst-case scenario for proponents is that an Environmental Impact Report will be required to address the impacts of the ordinance.

“It was determined that there were some changes that needed to be made to that ordinance,” said Glenn Russell of the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use at the March 21 hearing of the county’s Planning Commission.

On March 7 the Planning Commission voted 4-0 with three absent members to recommend passage of a compromise proposal which would allow wineries producing no more than 12,000 gallons per year and on agriculturally-zoned land to operate tasting rooms and have on-premise wine sales without a Major Use Permit.

The proposed ordinance allows tasting rooms and on-premise sales by right for boutique wineries accessed by public roads while establishing conditions for boutique wineries accessed by private roads.

If fewer than ten parcels between the closest public road and the winery must be accessed, the winery may operate by right if the winery enters into a road maintenance agreement, which includes addressing the liability of property owners, with all parcel owners between the public road and the winery.

If a road maintenance agreement cannot be obtained, or if more than ten parcels between the public road and the winery are accessed, an administrative permit will be required.

If any homeowners’ association rules or other deed covenants exist, they will continue to the extent the winery property is already bound.

The ordinance was to have been heard March 26 by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and the March 21 Planning Commission hearing initially was to have discussed minor revisions.

As Department of Planning and Land Use staff was preparing the board letter for docketing at the Board of Supervisors meeting, DPLU felt that additional changes were warranted.

“It was determined that there do need to be changes,” said DPLU’s Joe Farace.

DPLU also determined that insufficient notice of the March 21 hearing was provided, so the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to continue the hearing to April 4.

DPLU did not comment on what the proposed changes would entail.

“We don’t feel that it is appropriate to discuss the substance of the issue today,” Russell said at the March 21 hearing.

“We’re still working on it, so I think it’s a bit premature to go into detail on it,” Farace said.

“We are totally taken aback,” said Carolyn Harris of Chuparosa Vineyards in Ramona, who is also the secretary and general counsel of the Ramona Valley Winery Association. “All this has had a chance for review.”

A March 20 memo indicated that after evaluating all of the information received and conferring with County Counsel, DPLU has determined that an Environmental Impact Report would be needed to address potential noise, traffic, and groundwater impacts from by-right on-premise sales and tasting rooms at boutique wineries.

The Planning Commission had approved an environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration for the ordinance.

“They, after two years, are going to do a 180 on this,” Harris said.

Harris called an Environmental Impact Report more of a weapon than a process. “They took a hand grenade and turned it into a nuclear bomb,” she said.

Harris noted that the Mitigated Negative Declaration had previously withstood scrutiny during Planning Commission decisions.

Harvesting and wholesale sales (with state approval) are already permitted uses in agricultural areas, and the county currently has more than 40 bonded wineries.

“This is a small incremental change to an existing winery ordinance,” said Bill Schweitzer, the president of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (which includes growers who do not produce their own wine).

Schweitzer questioned why groundwater impacts would be required to be studied when grapes can be grown and harvested by right.

“What is this, the groundwater it takes to wash a couple of wine glasses a week?” he said.

Planning Commissioner John Riess noted that a defect in the Negative Declaration, for example omission of an archeological site, would require an Environmental Impact Report.

Certification of a Negative Declaration which addresses impacts is a discretionary matter.

“If they’re asking for a two-week continuance, there’s no EIR involved,” Riess said.

“I’m really dismayed also, disappointed in the process,” said Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods. “There’s a lot of folks out there who are depending on some sort of resolution on this.”


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