Michael Larner’s 7-year saga to build a winery and tasting room on Ballard Canyon Road must wait at least another month after the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission asked him to hash out a compromise with project opponents.
Friends of Ballard Canyon appealed approval of the Larner Winery to the commission, which voted 5-0 Wednesday to postpone the item until May 31.
That decision came after more than three hours of testimony and debate about the project before the commissioners, most of whom said they favored restrictions before considering approving the proposal for 133 acres on Ballard Canyon Road.
“I think the opportunity for negotiation is here, and we should try and take advantage of it,” said commission Chairman C. Michael Cooney, who represents the First District.
Matt Allen, Larner’s representative, said they were willing to work with the Friends of Ballard Road to come up with an agreement regarding hours of operation and number of visitors.
Larner has proposed to build a 3,600-square-foot winery and 386-square-foot tasting room.
The site also would host a maximum of four annual special events not to exceed 150 attendees, plus four annual private organized gatherings not to exceed 79 attendees.
Events would include vineyard barbecues where wine club members would release ladybugs and lacewings, a barrel tasting or a winemaker dinner.
“All of these things are important to my business,” Larner said. “You’ll notice there’s no weddings on there. That’s not our intent. … They’re all inherently beneficial and related to the agriculture use of the land. “
For larger gatherings, Larner is proposing to shuttle visitors from Los Olivos to the winery site to reduce the amount of traffic.
Neighbors appealed the zoning administrator’s April 2016 decision, contending the approval does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and violates the Williamson Act governing agricultural preserves.
The appellants contend the new winery will add to already unsafe conditions on Ballard Canyon Road, said attorney Marc Chytilo, a Friends of Ballard Canyon representative.
The Friends of Ballard Canyon sought a full environmental study on the proposal or mitigation measures to reduce potential significant impacts.
The project drew comments from both supporters and opponents.
“I think this process has gone on long enough,” Dr. Kyle Lemon said. “There’s been adequate amounts of data collected, analyzed, reanalyzed. The Larners have bent over backwards to comply with the whims of the few that oppose their project.”
But opponent Jim Smith noted the hazards created by the narrow road with hills and curves, popular among bicyclists.
“The idea to permit a commercial business whose operation results in an influx of out-of-town drivers, who have their physical and mental reflexes impaired, just doesn’t make sense,” Smith said, adding that he had lived in Ballard Canyon for 38 years, and called the road unforgiving for the inattentive drivers.
Larner’s traffic expert said data does not show a significantly high number of accidents on the road, although the opponents contended the data was not complete since many accidents were not reported to authorities.
Commissioner Marell Brooks, who represents the Third District, said she appreciated the changes the Larners made to the project, such as offering to shuttle visitors for larger events and not having amplified music during events.
However, she said she would support conditions adding further limits to wine tasting — such as requiring appointments — before she could approve the project.
The project proposed wine tasting from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
Commissioner Cecilia Brown agreed restrictions were necessary.
“There’s a certain experience you want when you go to a tasting room. You don’t want to show up to tasting room when there are a dozen other people there. It becomes about drinking. It’s not about tasting,” she said. “This should be a special experience.”
Commissioner Larry Ferini, who represents the Fourth District, said he fully supported the farming operation.
“We need to encourage them to get the most productivity and the most profit out of their land,” he said. “And what they’re telling us is they need wine tasting there. They need to bring the people there, that they want people to experience what they experience.”