The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission considered the final draft of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) concerning the revised Winery Ordinance last Wednesday, June 22. Before the meeting, there was hope that the multiple-year debate over winery specifics in Santa Barbara county would be voted on and move forward, but this was not the case.
The EIR was met with strong if civil rebuke from both the public and the members of the Planning Commission. The commission focused on clarifying the data from a previously conducted traffic study, as well as the way of classifying wineries based on their size and the tasting room issue that follows suit. About 30 members of the public attended the meeting and shared comments, including vintners, concerned residents, and lawyers for each group, which both still have concerns over the proposed changes.
Among other details, this new ordinance proposes a three-tiered system for classifying wineries based on the amount of land they have, the amount of planted vineyard, and the additional uses the winery would like to include in its services. These include winery tours, cooking classes, and tasting rooms.
“In the new ordinance in tier A, you can’t have a tasting room,” said Seth Kunin, owner of Kunin Wines. “This is my 19th year in Santa Barbara County with my wife. I would love to eventually have a vineyard or winery somewhere but it is so daunting because of needing the right permits and cost of everything in the tiered system.”
Besides the debate over tasting rooms and the technicalities that go along with them, some residents seemed very uneasy about how an increased amount of visitors would affect traffic and the amount of accidents on the rural roads, particularly Ballard Canyon Road. “The county failed to utilize a standard,” said Ana Citrin, an environmental lawyer representing Ballard Canyon residents. “They need to wait for more information…before making any decision.”
Michael Larner, who’s been trying to build winery on his Ballard Canyon vineyard for years, feels very passionately about the potential changes to the current ordinance. “Clearly there is much more work to do to appease both sides, thus prompting some to question whether a stakeholders task force is better served than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, or in this case making a restrictive ordinance revision applicable to a vital growing industry,” he said.
The Planning Commission will take up the matter again on August 3.