Though final decisions are more than a year away, Santa Barbara’s wine country got its first peek at new rules for building wineries and tasting rooms, as the County of Santa Barbara’s planning department unveiled proposed changes to the existing ordinance and announced upcoming meetings to get feedback on August 29 and September 17. Winemakers quickly complained that the meeting dates amid the upcoming harvest season are horribly inconvenient (so the county is now rescheduling the second workshop to be after harvest). Otherwise, initial reactions from vintners and concerned neighbors who worry about impacts like traffic, noise, and drunk driving are a mix of praise and criticism for what’s been put on the table.

“Overall, I commend the Long Range Planning folks for their hard work and taking into consideration our concerns as well as future needs,” said Michael Larner, whose application for a winery in Ballard Canyon was one of the projects that triggered the county’s review of the existing rules. “But unfortunately some of their proposals not only miss the mark, they are impractical and create overly restrictive parameters to navigate. There is little doubt that the wine industry will not gain anything from these proposed changes except a bad hangover.” Specifically, he finds the 50-person tasting room limit and 7 p.m. end time for events to be arbitrary and, while welcoming the allowance of food service for some wineries, wonders why the county would then require events to be catered by outside vendors. He and others are also worried about the definitions of “winery visitor,” and wonder whether private birthday parties that other residents can have without penalties may be construed as special events.

Larner’s up-canyon neighbor Cerene St. John, who worries about how the industry’s growth affects the community, believes that the initial ideas show that the county understands the issues raised. But she was “disappointed” that the proposed changes do not include overlay districts to “prevent additional wine tasting and special events on rural roads that are inappropriate for such uses such as Ballard Canyon and Chalk Hill roads.”

The planning department expects the review of these concepts, subsequent environmental review, and further discussion to continue through fall of 2014 before any changes are adopted. Click here for more details.


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