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Supervisors approve tiered winery ordinance

Boutique Winery tasting rooms and on-site sales are now allowed by right following a San Diego County Board of Supervisors action August 4.

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote approved a tiered winery zoning ordinance and also approved a General Plan Amendment to exempt certain winery classifications from restrictions on certain types of land use areas.

“We have a great growing area,” said Supervisor Bill Horn, who has been in production agriculture for the past 37 years. “For those who want to stay in ag, which is a way of life, this is an important transition.”

The ordinance allows tasting rooms and on-site sales by right at Boutique Winery operations with various restrictions. One restriction is that tasting rooms and on-site sales are restricted to land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoning.

“These are agricultural zones,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “The primary uses for A70 and A72 zones are agricultural.”

Neighbors of wineries expressed concerns to the supervisors, primarily about traffic issues, which for property owners who share private roads with wineries include road maintenance responsibility and potential liability.

Supervisor Pam Slater-Price noted that agriculturally zoned land is zoned that way to allow activities not compatible in land zoned for estate homes.

“Agricultural zones are intended for agricultural uses,” she said.

Residential use is permitted by right on land with agricultural zoning - as are public stables, veterinary services, dog kennels, and other commercial operations.

“There are already those issues. In a vast majority of cases, neighbors are working out these issues,” said Eric Gibson, the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU).

In February 2007, the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to develop an ordinance that would exempt wineries on agriculturally zoned land and producing no more than 12,000 gallons per year from discretionary permits. The concerns 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 led to a compromise proposal which required a road maintenance agreement addressing property owners’ liability as well as maintenance with all parcel owners between the public road and the winery for wineries accessed by private roads.

That was part of the ordinance approved by the county supervisors in April 2008, at which time the supervisors also 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.

The California Environmental Quality Act does not address liability while CEQA guidelines only address the on-site sales and tasting and not wineries, which are already allowed by right in agriculturally zoned areas. Harvesting and wholesale sales (with state approval) were already permitted uses in agricultural areas, and the county has more than 40 bonded wineries.

Fifteen days before the 2008 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.

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 from 10:00 a.m. to sunset.

No bus or caravan tours are allowed, and outdoor eating areas are limited to five tables and no more than 20 people. No amplified sound is allowed, and chip seal or alternative material is required for driveway access and parking areas.

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

The gallonage is a tremendous way of regulating this,” Horn said.

Under the ordinance specified, small winery events will be allowed with an Administrative Use Permit. A Small Winery is limited to annual production of 120,000 gallons. The previously-established 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 A2 agricultural, S87 Limited Control, S88 Specific Plan Area, and S92 General Rural zoning.

On-site tasting rooms and sales allow potential customers to become familiar with the products of those wineries, often leading to additional mail-order or other off-site sales.

DPLU staff 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.

A state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Type 02 wine growers license allows for wholesale wine sales. The ABC process for retail sales or on-site tasting rooms is similar to the county’s discretionary Administrative Use Permit process. The ABC can incorporate conditions, including those that 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 Celeste Young of Ramona asked that such a requirement be applied to boutique wineries, whose primary business is not serving alcohol to the public.

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