Monday, December 18 , 2017, 9:26 am | Fair 54º

 
 
 
 

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Approval of Larner Winery in Ballard Canyon Upheld Over Neighbors’ Objections

Santa Barbara County planners vote unanimously to reject appeal of plans to build winery and tasting room

Matt Allan, attorney for winery applicant Michael Larner, addresses the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Wednesday in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Matt Allan, attorney for winery applicant Michael Larner, addresses the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Wednesday in Santa Barbara. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Winemaker Michael Larner won a seven-year battle with his Ballard Canyon Road neighbors to build a tasting room and winery on his property when the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to deny the neighbors’ appeal of his project.

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 Planning Commission addressed several project updates step by step Wednesday, circling back to the contested topic of tasting room hours and the opponents’ request for a per-day cap on vehicles. They asked for a maximum of 30 cars per day on weekdays and 70 per day on weekends and major holidays.

In his stated efforts to forge an agreement with his neighbors, however, Larner and his attorney, Matt Allen, agreed late during Wednesday’s hearing to limit tastings to appointment-only visits if opponents would lift their request for a per-day cap on vehicles.

Attorney Ana Citrin, representing Friends of Ballard Canyon for the office of Marc Chytilo, consulted with her clients, and agreed — if the main gate to the Larner property would remain closed and locked during the day. Allen and Larner agreed to those terms. 

After the Planning Commission denied the appeal and upheld his project approval, Larner expressed satisfaction, calling the agreement “enough to move ahead and to start and grow our business.” He said he plans to begin construction this winter.

The issue of Larner’s desire for open tasting hours was a touchy one for his neighbors, who last year aligned themselves as the Friends of Ballard Canyon and hired Chytilo to represent them.

The group’s concerns centered on traffic volume and safety on Ballard Canyon Road, which cuts across agricultural land between Buellton and Los Olivos, and a potential increase in alcohol-fueled accidents.

Citrin called Wednesday’s vote to adopt by-appointment-only wine tasting “a positive step to addressing roadway safety and neighborhood concerns regarding problems with an open wine tasting system.”

During the Planning Commission’s most recent hearing on April 26, commissioners ordered ​Larner and Friends of Ballard Canyon to negotiate on the biggest issues, among them the tasting room hours and a daily cap on vehicles, number of special events per year and the time of night at which they would end, amplified sound and night lighting.

Both sides did negotiate via their respective attorneys, but remained at odds leading up to the Wednesday hearing.

Before the hearing Wednesday, Ballard Canyon Road resident Leigh Layman, who has long opposed the project, said that she “bears the Larner family no ill will,” but remains very concerned about increased traffic on the rural road. She addressed the commission during public comment, as did her husband, Richard Layman, and four other Ballard Canyon Road residents opposed to the ​Larner winery project.

Between the April 26 hearing and Wednesday, the planning staff, led by planner Tess Harris, updated the project description for the commissioners, who agreed with staff recommendations. 

Among the changes: Two wine industry-wide events per year — in addition to the four special events Larner will be allowed to host each year; a shuttle route that would access the property only from Solvang or Buellton via Highway 246, and not via Los Olivos; and extended hours during harvest season, from September to approximately November.

Larner noted that his special events would be winery specific and beneficial to the vineyard, and not be commercial events such as weddings or parties.

When guests are shuttled to the property for special events, the buses that carry them will not wait on the Larner property, but at “overflow” lots at St. Mark’s in the Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos, or Parking Lot 72 in Solvang, Harris said.

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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