Despite passionate opposition from many in the local wine industry, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission voted 4-1 Monday to approve an updated winery ordinance.
The vote follows nearly five years of workshops and public input organized by the Planning and Development Department.
With its vote, the planning commission will recommend that the County Board of Supervisors adopt the ordinance to amend the Santa Barbara County Land Use and Development Code to implement the new standards and permit requirements.
The proposed ordinance includes updates and changes to the county’s permitting process for winery tasting rooms, the number of daily visitors allowed, and special events rules.
Second District Planning Commissioner Cecilia Brown cast the sole dissenting vote when the panel voted after a nearly three-hour meeting — its fourth hearing in five months — during which the panel heard public comment from more than 25 people.
Among them was Third District county supervisor candidate Bruce Porter, who urged the commission not to shutter businesses with “arbitrary regulations” against the wine industry.
New to the proposed ordinance since the commission’s last hearing on Aug. 3 was the planning department’s allowance of tasting rooms for the smallest wineries, those with a minimum of 10 acres and classified in the ordinance as “Tier A” properties.
Previously, those wineries had been forbidden to offer any on-site wine tasting. The proposed rule applies only to properties zoned rural, not those in the inner-rural areas.
With her vote, Brown voiced what local residents had been concerned about, including issues of neighborhood incompatibility, particularly noise issues and increased traffic on rural roads in the area of Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon.
While saying she supports tasting rooms for Tier A wineries in rural settings, Brown called the overall ordinance not compatible enough for the concerns of winery neighbors.
“We could have done more,” she said.
During Monday’s hearing, Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough Monday lobbied fellow panelists to boost the Tier A maximum allowable tasting room space from 200 to 300 square feet.
While Fourth District Commissioner Larry Ferini and First District Commissioner C. Michael Cooney agreed with Blough, Brown and Third District Commissioner Marell Brooks did not, but the issue passed with a 3-2 vote.
Monday’s vote also canceled a previous ordinance requirement that a new winery’s production must include 20-percent estate-grown grapes.
Among those who spoke against the revised ordinance’s conditions was David Pollock, co-owner of For Friends Inn in Santa Ynez. He told the commissioners that nearly all of his guests visit his inn specifically to taste at local wineries.
“Please don’t give these visitors a reason to drive right past us up north” to the neighboring Paso Robles’ region, he said.
Following the vote, Santa Ynez resident Mary Beth Kerr, founder of SYV Lives Matter and an advocate for traffic safety, said she was pleased with the commissioners’ decision.
“I think it’s good, going forward. Having the CUP (Conditional Use Permit) process will allow input from us, as neighbors” for future winery applicants, she said.
Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, hopes to see continued dialogue between the planning department and commission, the wine industry and residents who surround wineries throughout the count.
“Having been part of this (ordinance) process for three years, my concern is the need at the county level to create a task force to bring impacted stakeholders together to have further intensive deliberations,” she said. “So far, there’s no mechanism for that dialogue.”
Calling Monday’s vote “a compromise in the truest sense,” Marshall Miller, vice president of operations for the Thornhill Companies, said “everyone probably left today feeling like they lost, in some fashion.
“However, we remain hopeful that we have a vibrant wine industry and a very viable community going forward.”