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Planning Commission sends new winery ordinance to supervisors

The County’s Planning Commission has sent a new winery zoning ordinance to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, which is expected to consider and vote on the ordinance this summer.

The Planning Commission’s 5-2 vote April 30, with Michael Beck and John Riess dissenting, would allow certain Wholesale Limited Winery and Boutique Winery activities by right while allowing Small Winery events with an Administrative Use Permit. Tasting rooms and on-site sales would be restricted to land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoning, and the Planning Commission recommended that a minimum four-acre parcel be required to have a tasting room.

“It’s a good balance for the public and the boutique wineries,” said Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods.

In February 2007, the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to develop an ordinance which would exempt wineries on agriculturally-zoned land and producing no more than 12,000 gallons per year from discretionary permits. During subsequent hearings opponents of the ordinance indicated that all owners of a private road may be liable if an accident occurs and that trips to wineries may create a disproportional burden on private roads for which all owners share maintenance cost responsibility. The Ramona Valley Winery Association developed a compromise proposal, and in a March 2008 Planning Commission hearing leaders from both sides of previous debates supported the compromise while some members from each side expressed opposition to the clauses intended to address each other’s concerns.

The ordinance which was approved by the county supervisors in April 2008 allowed wineries accessed by public roads to have tasting rooms and on-premise sales as well as Internet, telephone, and mail sales. If fewer than 10 parcels between the closest public road and the winery needed to be accessed, a winery on a private road would have been able to operate a tasting room by right if it entered into a road maintenance agreement which addressed property owners’ liability as well as maintenance with all parcel owners between the public road and the winery. If more than 10 parcels between the public road and the winery needed to be accessed or if a road maintenance agreement could not be obtained, an Administrative Use Permit would have been required.

The supervisors’ April 2008 action adopted an Environmental Negative Declaration for boutique wineries to operate by right on public roads but also directed county staff to develop ordinance language for larger wineries and to prepare the necessary environmental documentation for a tiered approach which would cover larger wineries.

Fifteen days before the ordinance was to take effect, the county received a notice of intent to sue for CEQA violations, and the county supervisors approved an urgency ordinance to rescind the boutique winery ordinance. In June 2008 the supervisors adopted an ordinance allowing boutique wineries on agriculturally-zoned land to have tasting rooms and on-premise sales with an Administrative Use Permit while permitting

Internet, telephone, and mail sales by right. The June 2008 action also restored the previous directive to county staff to develop a tiered set of regulations and to prepare the necessary environmental documentation.

The proposed new ordinance increases the annual production limit for a Wholesale Limited Winery from 7,500 to 12,000 gallons. A Wholesale Limited Winery is allowed by right in agricultural zones but does not allow for retail activities, tasting rooms, or special events, although Internet, telephone, and mail sales are allowed. Under the proposed ordinance, a winery must operate as a Wholesale Limited Winery for at least one year from the approval of its Alcoholic Beverage Control Type 02 winegrowers license (which allows for wholesale sales) before it may operate as a Boutique Winery.

Under both the 2008 ordinance and the current proposed ordinance, a Boutique Winery is limited to production of 12,000 gallons annually. At least 75 percent of the fruit used for the wine must be grown in San Diego County and at least 25 percent of the fruit shall be grown on the premises. Tasting room hours are limited to between 10:00 a.m. and sunset. Pre-packaged food could be sold and consumed while catered food service is allowed, but on-site food preparation is prohibited.

No bus or caravan tours are allowed and outdoor eating areas are limited to five tables and no more than 20 people (an increase from a ten-person maximum in the 2008 ordinance). No amplified sound is allowed, and chip seal or alternative material is required for driveway access and parking areas.

Staff from the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) felt that the road maintenance and liability issue was a civil matter and should not be included in the ordinance, which disappointed nearby neighbors of wineries. “We worked hard on a compromise,” said Tom Ramsthaler of Ramona.

The ABC process for retail sales or on-site tasting rooms is similar to the county’s Administrative Use Permit process. The ABC can incorporate conditions, including those which are part of the county ordinance, and the ABC can revoke licenses for violations. The ABC conditions can include road maintenance agreements, including liability resolutions.

The ABC can also require training for winery staff, and in a separate motion the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to express such a desire.

The Environmental Impact Report assumed a worst-case scenario. “That would encourage additional land that’s not already in ag production to go into ag production,” said DPLU’s Joe Farace.

“The character of A70 and A72 lands will be significantly negatively impacted,” said ordinance opponent Don Kovacic of Ramona.

If farmers convert land from other crops to wine grapes, there may actually be environmental benefits. “Grapes, as you know, use very little water compared to other crops,” said Don Kohorst of Pyramid Vineyard.

The annual limit of 12,000 gallons equates to approximately 5,000 cases.

“If we want farming to continue we must give farmers the latitude to succeed,” said Casey Anderson, who represented the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

“We think it will be a huge economic impact right now for our community,” said Carol Fowler of the Ramona Chamber of Commerce.

Small wineries are limited to annual production of 120,000 gallons. The existing Winery use, which has no production limit, is allowed by right in all industrial zone classifications and with a Major Use Permit in areas with RR Rural Residential, RRO Recreation-Oriented, A70 or A72 agricultural, S87 Limited Control, S88 Specific Plan Area, and S92 General Rural zoning.

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