What was widely expected to be a test of the county supervisors’ sentiments on the future of Santa Barbara’s wine industry turned out to be a lesson in neighborly compromise on Tuesday, when those opposed to and behind the Vincent Winery project announced a last-minute deal had been reached.
Happily surprised to be saved from a heated appeal hearing, the board approved the deal without changes — save for a “no” vote and some vitriolic anti-government-regulation sniping from new supervisor Peter Adam. That means, more than three years since first submitting an application for their nearly 25-acre property, the Vincent family can now build a 7,300-square-foot wine production facility and 1,100-square-foot tasting room at the corner of Roblar Avenue and Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley, and host four special events per year (one up to 150 people, three up to 75 people).
The agreement emerged from a January 18 meeting between the two parties, namely the Vincents and valley residents Bob Field and John Poitras, who appealed the County Planning Commission’s November approval of the project. Neither side could be quite sure which way the political winds would blow on Tuesday, so they embraced the county’s “facilitation” process — a sit-down negotiation only offered when an appeal to the Board of Supervisors is filed — and endured the sometimes contentious across-the-table give-and-take required to nail down a deal.
The end result did not change much from what the Planning Commission approved, but Field and Poitras say that wasn’t their intent. Rather, they wanted to tie up the loose ends that remained after the commission’s approval, which meant accurately defining terms to ensure that what was approved — for instance, just five hours of wine tasting per day and closure of the tasting room when events were hosted — was actually what went into practice.
“The beauty of what happened here is that it was negotiated,” said Field. “We found middle ground.” The Vincents’ attorney Susan Petrovich agreed. “Even though we, to this day, do not agree on some basic principles,” she explained, “everyone involved are residents of the valley — they’re neighbors — and any common ground we can reach is a victory in my opinion.”
After the hearing, Field and Petrovich — whose ability to negotiate from such historically opposed stances was lauded by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, drawing some laughs from the crowd — both lamented that the January 18 “facilitation” was the first time in the county’s permitting process where face-to-face and private negotiation was even an official option. Though Petrovich admitted the meeting “wasn’t exactly a kumbaya thing,” she and Field agreed it was a good tool for reaching compromise and suggested that it should perhaps come even sooner in the county process, which could save everyone money and time.
And that might be the only lasting impact that the Vincent deal could have for the ongoing winery ordinance update, which has the last of its information-gathering workshops on Thursday, February 21, 3-5 p.m., at the county supervisors’ conference room in Santa Barbara. “I wish there was a way that we could have the same kind of sit-down, yelling across the table but realizing some areas for middle ground regarding the winery ordinance,” explained Petrovich, echoing many who have already called for more neighborly discussions than what’s ensued so far. “I don’t see the workshops doing that.”