For an industry focused on the good life, there’s been a lot of wine-country anxiety and anger wrapped up around the County of Santa Barbara’s plans to revise its winery ordinance. Winemakers and their supporters are worried that new rules could stymie one of the region’s biggest businesses while concerned neighbors continue to complain that their once quiet landscape will potentially be ruined by loud parties, rising tasting-room traffic, and the looming specter of drunk driving.
So after more than a year of meetings and often heated discussions, the county’s planning team this past week unveiled a new draft of the ordinance, which, if passed as is, would establish a three-tier system of permitting based on whether you want to build a winery without a tasting room (minimum two acres of grapes planted), one with a tasting room (20-acre minimum parcel with at least 10 acres planted in grapes), or one with a tasting room and special events (40-acre minimum, 20 acres in grapes). There are a lot more details, from new allowances on food service to maximum number of guests and events to different rules depending on where the proposed winery is located (check it out in full here), and the county is now taking public comments on the draft until April 4 via this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though the many players are still digesting the language, one of the concerned neighbors, Bob Field, had this to say via email on Tuesday night: “I think there was a lot of motion in the right direction, but not quite enough — there is still too much wine drinking and partying proposed in inappropriate locations. For example, they completely ignored the concerns about roads that are not at all appropriate for alcohol-serving businesses.” Field did however credit the planners for doing “a pretty good job on a tough task,” and admitted that, “like most compromises, everyone will find something to like and something to dislike.”
From the industry’s side, Morgen McLaughlin, head of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, said that her members are currently reviewing the proposal. “It is our objective to have regulations and a permitting process in place that fosters the continued vitality of the grape and wine industry of Santa Barbara County,” said McLaughlin on Wednesday.
There will be no more public meetings to address this stage of the process, but plenty more time to comment as the ordinance winds its way toward adoption, including a chance to comment on the resulting environmental report this summer and future hearings before the County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in fall 2014 and winter 2015.