Placer wine ordinance update bottled up for now

Environmental impact report process now taking place
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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The lengthy process for new rules for Placer County wineries is getting longer.

With the potential for challenges to the adequacy of the environmental analysis in a negative declaration on temporary outdoor events and wineries, Placer County is now opting for a more-extensive study.

The decision by the county Community Development Resource Agency’s environmental review committee was made public at a recent meeting of the Placer County Planning Commission.

The more extensive review lengthens the time and effort already invested in what has become a highly debated adjustment to the county’s eight-year-old winery ordinance.

Debate has pitted wineries intent on providing expanded events at their rural locations against neighbors concerned about increased traffic, noise and other disruptions.

Changes to the original document, meant to address concerns of both winery owners and property owners living near wineries, first started being developed in 2013 at the request of the county’s winery task force.

By July, after numerous public meetings, new zoning text amendments were introduced to define events at wineries to be gatherings of more than 20 people for one to 12 hours where the purpose is for fundraising, profit or is political, public, social or educational. That number was revised upward to more than 50 people after input at municipal advisory council and agricultural commission meetings.

Additionally, the new standards would allow all wineries, except boutique wineries, to be allowed a maximum of six events a year. Tasting rooms may be used for events but are limited to occupancy limits in the county building code.

The issuance of the negative declaration draft in the summer resulted in a potential legal challenge from the Placer Group of the Sierra Club and the Public Interest Coalition. An analysis by urban planner Carmen Borg for the groups concluded that the negative declaration “didn’t come close” to satisfying state requirement.

“The determination that the winery ordinance update’s loss of agricultural lands, traffic, noise impacts, land-use conflicts and biological resources are insignificant is entirely unsubstantiated,” Borg stated.

Borg added that failure to provide any mitigation for impacts is a violation of state environmental quality laws.

That slowed the negative declaration process down and resulted in a shift to a more extensive study.

In his report detailing the reasons for more studies, Supervising Planner George Rosasco told the Planning Commission Jan. 14 that in light of comments received on the negative declaration, an environmental impact report must be prepared. There will be ample opportunity for the public to comment and participate during the process, he said.

Jeff Evans, co-owner of Bear River Winery, said Wednesday that his rural Meadow Vista area winery isn’t as affected by the delay as others in the Loomis and Penryn areas. Bear River has fewer visits during tasting room hours and also is a partner with five other wineries in Old Town Auburn’s Sip.

“It’s taken years,” Evans said, of the ordinance revamp. “The rules were in place but wineries were somewhat unhappy with them.”

Now Evans said that all sides are looking at a potential nine-month process to develop an environmental impact report. 

Event regulations are a major stumbling block for some wineries, he said.

Bear River Winery hasn’t undertaken events, other than ones like Grape Days of Summer, where all wineries take part, Evans said.

“I know the Sierra Club and Save Placer Farmlands are upset with wineries in the Loomis and Lincoln area that have live music and are agitating the neighbors nearby,” Evans said. “I understand the wish to go through the process quicker but I do understand there are real concerns.”