Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
spotlight

Yakima County eyes changes to winery, breweries and other agritourism rules

  • Updated
  • 2

The rules governing activities and events at wineries, breweries and other agritourism operations could change under a proposal that will go before the Yakima County Planning Commission next week.

Planning officials say the changes are designed to provide more clarity and update code that’s about 20 years old.

But for wineries and small farms that are open to the public, the new agricultural zoning district language needs to address a long-term problem: How small businesses and residents can coexist side-by-side in the rural areas of Yakima County.

“Do we want an ag zone that’s there for the benefit of the entire public, or only for the people who are lucky enough to own a house on 40 acres?” asked Paul Beveridge, owner of the Wilridge Winery northwest of Yakima. “We’ve got a wonderful resource here in this ag zone, and more people should get to share in it.”

The county’s proposed changes will be presented to the planning commission Wednesday, and public comments will be taken, said Noelle Madera, long-range planning manager for Yakima County. The commission will deliberate and possibly make a recommendation on the proposal to the county board of commissioners, which would have another public hearing before considering the changes for final approval, Madera said.

At this point, there’s been no decision on whether the changes would apply only to new businesses or to existing businesses.

For more than a year, county officials have reviewed the development code regarding permits for wineries, breweries, distilleries and other agritourism operations, Madera said. This process included a review of special event permits, such as outdoor concerts or festivals, associated with these land uses.

“This review process intends to determine if the Yakima County Code adequately addresses these land uses, primarily when located within the agricultural zoning district. The goal is to add more clarity to the current regulations,” Madera said, noting they were adopted about 20 years ago, when Yakima County’s wine and craft beverage industry was in its infancy.

Industry involvement

As part of this process, county planning officials created an agritourism advisory group to provide feedback and advice on the permitting of wineries, breweries and distilleries and agritourism operations, or ATOs.

The advisory group’s feedback and recommendations are part of the proposal the county plan commission will consider next week, Mandera said.

“We feel this proposal is going to make (permitting) less restrictive in many ways and a more streamlined process,” she said. “Also, some of the definitions and requirements were outdated.”

Despite being involved in the process, Barbara Glover, executive director of the Wine Yakima Valley industry group, said winery owners have reviewed the county proposal and do not like many of its tightened restrictions.

Beveridge said county officials could not specifically tell him how many different people had complaints about agritourism activities, and he believes the proposed changes would lead to more complaints and less success for the Yakima Valley’s wineries, breweries and distilleries.

Over the past few years, his business has faced multiple complaints from a residential neighbor about events, noise and other activities, but Beveridge said he is unaware of any others.

“The existing code is working and does not need to be changed,” Beveridge said. “If Yakima County really wants to encourage agritourism, the current proposal should be scrapped and rewritten completely.”

Events

Beveridge’s specific objections include a broadening of what is considered an “event” at a winery, brewery or distillery.

“Virtually anything a business might want to do with more than one person will be considered an ‘event’ and therefore require an ATO permit,” he said.

Tasting rooms and any type of entertainment, including a radio or an acoustic guitar player providing music, would be considered “events” under the new proposal, which is something the advisory committee never suggested, he noted.

Among Beveridge’s other objections are reducing the number of guest rooms allowed at overnight lodging facilities, such as bed and breakfasts (from 12 to 6); elimination of weddings at agritourism businesses; and requiring new occupancy, parking and road maintenance restrictions on wineries, breweries and distilleries that are not required of other ag-related businesses.

“With only a few minor exceptions, the new limitations and restrictions in the proposal will make it more difficult for agritourism businesses to succeed in Yakima County,” he added.

The planning commission meeting and public hearing begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9. Participation will be online, via the following link: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/730684309

Contact Joel Donofrio at jdonofrio@yakimaherald.com.

(2) comments

jocastabryan@hotmail.com

Are we trying to kill wineries, now? What public good can possibly be accomplished by preventing wineries from hosting weddings? How does tightening restrictions make the permitting process less restrictive? That was a dishonest, Orwellian comment if ever I read one.

chuck4lolly

If it is not broken, why try to fix it. I have no irons in the fire, however on the surface it looks like another avenue for county revenue. I do live in an agricultural zoned area.

Comments are now closed on this article.

Comments can only be made on article within the first 3 days of publication.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Sports Alerts

Weather Alerts