Rule changes for wineries, breweries, resorts and other tourist attractions in agricultural areas are headed to Yakima County commissioners after getting a final stamp of recommendation from the county Planning Commission on Wednesday.
After a couple last-minute questions, members of the commission voted 5-1 to recommend the new rules and regulations for approval by the Board of County Commissioners, which will have final say on the changes. Planning Commissioner Mike Shuttleworth, who has objected to several of the changes, voted against the recommendation.
The new rules went through months of public discussion, debate and staff suggestions. Once approved, they will cover new operations and applications.
Discussion of streamlined and updated rules for agritourism began more than one year ago as county planning department personnel met with an advisory committee of winery, brewery and resort owners. These meetings resulted in a new proposal for rules governing size and frequency of events, what type of food service could be offered, the number of guest rooms allowed, and the process for approving agritourism businesses.
The planning commission deliberated the details of rule changes for agritourism businesses three straight months, at its March through May virtual meetings, following a lengthy Feb. 9 public hearing on the county planning department’s proposal.
Much of the discussion, from the public hearing onward, focused on the level of food service which can be offered at wineries, breweries and distilleries. Current rules limit this level of agritourism businesses to prepacked food prepared elsewhere, such as charcuterie boards, or food trucks which park on the property.
Eventually planning commission members recommended giving wineries, breweries and distilleries the option to add a full-service, commercial kitchen, but requiring a public hearing and a final decision from a hearing examiner before that level of food service can be added.
Food service was the most-discussed item at the Feb. 9 public hearing, as several winery owners noted how offering full meals enhances the experience for visitors and allows them a chance to compete with other wineries in the region, outside of Yakima County, which are allowed to operate a full-service restaurant.
“We revisited these rules due to changes in the wine industry, which is offering more events and more amenities than they were 20 or 25 years ago,” county planning official Tommy Carroll said. “The hearing examiner is the appropriate level to make the final decision” on a resort agritourism operation with full-service restaurant.
Other rule changes, which did not receive unanimous support from planning commissioners, were increasing to 150 the attendance limit at winery, brewery and distillery events before an additional permit is required; and keeping 12 as the maximum number of overnight units at agritourism operation resorts.
Shuttleworth and Holly Castle, the planning commission’s two District 3 appointees, voted against both rule changes, which the planning commission endorsed by 4-2 votes.
The commission also addressed the set up and removal of temporary structures for outdoor festivals in areas zoned for agriculture, such as Chinook Fest in the Naches area. These rules apply to any event which attracts more than 500 people for five hours or more.
Eventually, commission members recommended that temporary structures may not be started more than 14 days before the event and must be removed within 10 days of the event’s conclusion. They did not set a timeframe for inspections.
The agritourism rule changes also adjust the approval process, eliminating the “type 4” standard for approval, which required a public hearing and final approval from the County Board of Commissioners. The highest level of approval, for operations such as resorts, now is “type 3,” which still requires a public hearing, but it is before a hearing examiner, who makes the final decision. The examiner’s decision can be appealed in superior court.
A timeline for when the county’s Board of Commissioners will consider the rule changes was not available at press time.