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Local News

Santa Barbara County Officials Deny Appeal, Uphold Buellton Winery Approval

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously denied an appeal of a planned winery and tasting room development in the Buellton area, but officials disagreed on the merit of the appeal itself.

Bob Field, a longtime Santa Ynez Valley resident who is running for the Third District supervisor seat, filed an appeal of the County Planning Commission’s September 2015 approval of the Santa Rosa Road Tier II Winery development project at 7290 Santa Rosa Rd.

The project proposed by John Wagner — also part owner of John Sebastiano winery in eastern Santa Rita Hills — is located on the south side of Santa Rosa Road, about 4 miles west of the Santa Rosa Road and Highway 101 intersection.

With the supervisors vote to deny the appeal and uphold the approval, plans will move forward. 

Proposed plans would demolish approximately 3,000 square feet of existing development on a site that has housed a wine tasting room since the 1980s, most recently named Alma Rosa.

Wagner wants to build a new 10,540-square-foot winery production facility and a 1,160-square-foot building for a tasting room. He also plans to build a residence on the 100-plus acre property.

Field said his concerns involved county staff misinterpreting rules and a traffic study, erroneously allowing up to 30 special events per year and inadequate parking.

He was worried about drivers impaired by alcohol causing collisions but said he did want the project to move forward — just with fewer events.

“Alcohol impairs your ability to drive,” Field said, comparing the winery to a bar. “What you are being told by your staff is simply not correct.”

A maximum of six special events — with attendees capped at 150 — and 24 organized gatherings of between 13 to 50 people were proposed.

The project was originally approved by the zoning administrator in April 2015 and then appealed up to the County Planning Commission, which unanimously denied it while telling developers to reduce the number, frequency and attendance of special events.

No more than four special events or organized gatherings can occur in a month, and the property would boast 25 permanent parking spaces and 60 overflow parking spaces.

While Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf and Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said they understood Field’s concerns were part of a larger issue with the rapidly growing wine industry, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino had far less patience.

He took the liberty of looking up Field’s Happy Canyon Road address, pointing out that it’s some 30 miles away from the project site and is also currently for sale. He even put the online listing up on the large screen.

“I had a problem with the appeal from the beginning,” Lavagnino said.

“It would be different for me if this was a neighbor. We have to change the appeal process. We should never have to deal with something like this again.”

Right now, anyone can write a check for about $600 to file an appeal of a project if they prove some interest.

Lavagnino called Field’s appeal a waste of thousands of dollars in county staff time.

“I am extremely disappointed that there’s been statements about someone in our community who has every right to make an appeal on a project,” Wolf said, apologizing to Field. “To show something publicly like that is very troubling to me.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam agreed the appeals process should be changed, but First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he worried the discussion was going off course.

Supervisors needed a break before moving on to other matters.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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