The Clark County commissioners will give further consideration to changes to the county’s ordinance on wineries during a public hearing set for Tues., Aug. 27, 10 a.m., at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.
The commissioners have met three times this year to consider revisions to aspects of the winery ordinance dealing with food service and noise levels from amplified music.
County Planner Gordy Euler said the commissioners are now considering a noise limitation of 50 decibels measured at property lines until 10 p.m., and 40 decibels thereafter. These limitations would be more restrictive than state standards which are 55 and 45 decibels.
A normal conversation is about 50 decibels, said Euler. Online information indicates that 50 decibels is equivalent to a dishwasher running in the next room.
Complaints about loud music eminating from the Rusty Grape Vineyard east of Battle Ground spurred the commissioners to consider further regulation.
In June, the commissioners voted to ban amplified music between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but never finalized that decision.
In July, the commissioners held another public hearing on the topic where they heard testimony supporting a later hour for amplified music. Consideration was given to stopping music at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. The debate continued until commissioner Steve Stuart suggested the 50 decibel limitation.
Michele Bloomquist, owner of Heisen House Vineyards in Battle Ground, described 50 decibels as “pretty much a whisper.” Starting a car could be above 50 decibels, she said. “I don’t know that 50 decibels is possible or realistic.”
Bloomquist said events at her winery have never resulted in noise complaints.
Bloomquist said she has music on Fridays, 6-9 p.m., May-September, with one or two musicians, plus four festivals a year and weddings. She said she will spend $124 for a decibel reading device.
Dan Andersen, owner of Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery in Ridgefield, said he has light music three times a year. Neighbors have never complained about his music either, he said.
The commissioners also voted to ban the cooking of food to order, limiting food to pre-prepared items. Food service limitations are designed to avert commercial activities such as taverns and restaurants from operating in rural areas, said Euler. He was uncertain as to whether pizza was considered a cooked-to-order food.
The Clark County ordinance regulating certain aspects of wineries was adopted in 2010. That ordinance allows wineries to open tasting rooms while placing limitations on the number and size of events that can be held annually.
While growing grapes is considered an agricultural activity and permitted in all zones, wineries need a permit to have a tasting room and host events due to concerns over such things as building safety and the adequacy of septic systems.
Only two of the 11-14 wineries in the county are fully permitted. Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery in Ridgefield, with 15 acres of grapes owned by Dan Andersen, was the first to obtain the proper permits. Bethany Vineyard and Winery, also in Ridgefield, is also fully permitted. Euler said repairs to buildings and septic systems might be needed before issuance of permits and those repairs can be costly.
Euler said wineries have been exempt from land use reviews for such things as critical lands and the handling of stormwater. Under the current proposal, wineries would no longer be exempt from such reviews.
Euler recognized that various county reviews and permitting functions as regards wineries can be confusing. “Land use and building codes don’t line up in that regard,” he said.
Euler emphasized that, under the current proposal, wineries will need to have federal and state licenses before they can operate under county rules.
So far the commissioners have not proposed a change to the definition of an “event” which, under the 2010 ordinance, is defined as a gathering of 100 or more people. Wineries are limited to 50 “events” per year.
The current ordinance also provides that winery owners must notify the Clark County Sheriff’s Office of upcoming events with 500 people or more. Steve Shay, commander with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said he has received three or four such notifications in the last year, all from Bethany Vineyard and Winery.
Shay said the commissioners now plan to require Sheriff’s Office notification for events of 150 people or more.
Shay said normal winery activity does not generally pose law enforcement problems. But, he said, “when beer and wine are served, along with a sit-down meal, that’s coming close to becoming a tavern.”
Carol Levanen, spokesperson for the property rights group Clark County Citizens United, said she has been working on behalf of winery neighbors who are adversely affected by activities at wineries.
Levanen suggested that some wineries in Clark County may not be growing grapes and making wine, but rather bringing in wine produced elsewhere. She described the situation as having “a tremendous impact on rural lands. It’s only a matter of time before we have just a whole bunch of taverns in rural areas,” she said.
Winery owner Bloomquist said it is not uncommon for wineries, even large wineries, to buy wine to supplement their own production.
Euler was uncertain whether public testimony would be taken at the Aug. 27 public hearing.
More information is available by calling Euler, (360) 397-2280, ext. 4968.
Marvin Case may be reached at (360) 687-4122 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.