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Planning Commission denies support for winery ordinance GPA

A proposed General Plan Amendment which would exempt certain winery classifications from restrictions on certain types of land use areas will go to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors without the support of the county’s Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission’s June 25 hearing saw Commissioners Leon Brooks, Peder Norby, and David Pallinger vote in favor of a motion to recommend the exemption while Michael Beck and John Riess voted in opposition. Commissioners Adam Day and Bryan Woods were not at the June 25 meeting and without the necessary four votes for support, the Planning Commission’s official recommendation is a denial.

The county supervisors are expected to hear both the proposed tiered winery ordinance and the proposed General Plan Amendment this summer. The supervisors have the option of invoking a statement of overriding considerations to Environmental Impact Report findings, and Riess felt that option was a better alternative than the exemption. Beck felt that the unresolved issue of private road liability merited denial of the exemption.

On April 30 the Planning Commission voted 5-2, with Beck and Riess dissenting, to recommend a new winery ordinance which would allow certain wholesale limited winery and boutique winery activities by right on land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoning while allowing small winery events with an Administrative Use Permit. The associated Environmental Impact Report assumed a worst-case scenario since the location of future boutique wineries was uncertain.

Opponents pointed out that the county’s General Plan prohibits any development other than a single-family residence on parcels with Multiple Rural Use (18) or Impact Sensitive Land Use (24) land use designations if significant environmental impacts would occur. The proposed General Plan Amendment would exempt only small winery, wholesale limited winery, and boutique winery uses allowed under the tiered winery ordinance.

The Environmental Impact Report conclusions are based on the possibility of a winery operating anywhere on the county’s 440,000 acres of agriculturally-zoned land and thus could not rule out the possibility of significant environmental impacts in some areas. Overriding benefits include agricultural benefits such as the promotion and retention of agricultural lands and the encouragement of a low-water crop, regulatory benefits from streamlining the approval process, and economic benefits from tourism to the county’s wine-growing regions.

The Planning Commission’s April 30 recommendation included a requirement for a four-acre minimum parcel in order to have a tasting room while the EIR studied parcels as small as one acre.

“It’s really been studied at a higher number,” Norby said. “I’m very comfortable with this.”

The Board of Supervisors had approved a boutique winery ordinance in April 2008 along with an environmental Negative Declaration but rescinded that ordinance after the county received notice of an intent to sue for California Environmental Quality Act violations. The EIR addressed that claim of CEQA violation, but the new proposed ordinance lacks the 2008 ordinance’s resolution of the private road issue.

Opponents of the ordinance have 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, and the 2008 ordinance included a compromise proposal to address that. During the revision of the ordinance, county staff felt that the road maintenance and liability issue was a civil matter and should not be included in the ordinance.

“We’re essentially washing our hands of any responsibility,” Beck said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the public who are going to be left with fighting these battles.”

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