San Diego County Planning Commission has sent a new winery zoning ordinance to county supervisors, who are expected to consider and vote on the proposal this summer.
The commission’s 5-2 vote on Friday, with Michael Beck and John Riess dissenting, recommends certain Wholesale Limited Winery and Boutique Winery activities by right while allowing Small Winery events with an administrative use permit.
Tasting rooms and onsite sales would be restricted to land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoning, and the commission recommends that a minimum four-acre parcel be required to have a tasting room. County staff did not recommend a minimum parcel size.
“It’s a good balance for the public and the boutique wineries,” said Commissioner Bryan Woods, who represents District 2, which includes Ramona.
In 2007, the supervisors directed staff to develop an ordinance to exempt wineries on agriculturally zoned land and producing no more than 12,000 gallons per year from discretionary permits.
During subsequent hearings, opponents said 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 2008 commission hearing leaders from both sides supported the compromise while some members from each side opposed clauses intended to address each other’s concerns.
The ordinance, approved by the supervisors in April 2008, allowed wineries accessed by public roads to have tasting rooms, on-premise sales, and Internet, telephone, and mail sales.
Fifteen days before the ordinance was to take effect, the county received a notice of an intent to sue for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) violations, and the supervisors rescinded the boutique winery ordinance. In June 2008, they adopted an ordinance allowing boutique wineries on agricultural land to have tasting rooms and on-premise sales with an administrative use permit, and permitting Internet, telephone and mail sales by right. The action restored the previous directive to county staff to develop a tiered set of regulations and to prepare the necessary environmental documentation.
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 neighbors of wineries.
“We worked hard on a compromise,” said Tom Ramsthaler of Ramona.
An administrative use permit can be conditioned to include the requirement for a road maintenance agreement.
“Without a permitting process there’s no control,” Ramsthaler said. “We’ve got to be able to address that concern.”
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 that allows for wholesale sales before it may operate as a boutique winery.
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 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 in a separate motion the commission voted 7-0 to express such a desire.
The environmental impact report (EIR) 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.
That worst-case scenario gives the county — and wineries — a legally defensible environmental document for a discretionary board of supervisors action.
“We do believe that it was comprehensive in evaluating all the potential impacts to the environment,” said Ramona Valley Winery Association general council Carolyn Harris, who with her husband owns Chuparosa Vineyards in Ramona.
“These properties are all zoned ag,” Norby said. “The only thing that’s changing here is we’re discussing whether or not they can have on-site sales.”
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 EIR water use, traffic, and noise figures go beyond the actual experience of Menghini Winery in Julian.
“I’ve been out there for 28 years and had no idea,” said Mike Menghini. “As far as I’m concerned, there is no impact.”
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.
If a “middleman” is required for off-site sales, that extra level can decrease a winery’s profits significantly.
“We’re going to work with this,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to ending that three-tier system in San Diego County.”