Winery ordinance ready for supervisors

   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received a notice of an intent to sue for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) violations, and the supervisors rescinded the boutique winery ordinance.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.

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