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Wine wars: Ada County Commissioners approve one Eagle foothills winery, delay a decision on event center

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Another week, another tense hearing in Ada County about wineries in the Eagle foothills. 

On Wednesday night, the Ada County Commissioners sat up late into the night listening to testimony from residents and the winery industry about applications from two separate wineries to expand their operations in the area. The first was an application from 3100 Cellars on Artemisa Road for a permit to produce and sell wine on their property and the second application came from Dude DeWalt Cellars along Highway 16 to expand their operations to an event center and social hall along with their winery. 

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Commissioners opted to allow 3100 Cellars to move ahead with their project, although they required several conditions limiting hours of operations and the number of people who could be on the property at a time. The request for an event center designation at Dude DeWalt Cellars was tabled until June 14 at 9 a.m. to allow the commissioners more time to consider the issues after nearly six hours of testimony on both issues. 

A long-running tension 

Wineries in Eagle have been top of mind at Ada County for several months now. 

These applications are the latest in an ongoing battle between some residents of the Eagle foothills who are opposed to the growth of wineries in the Eagle Foothills and the Idaho wine industry’s hopes to have the area’s large lots filled with vineyards instead of other residential development. While the wine industry says the growth of wineries will preserve open space and enrich the community, nearby neighbors have decried the dangers of drunk driving from visitors, additional traffic and the noise from crowds socializing in their quiet rural area. 

A close up of Rolling Hills Vineyard’s grape vines in the off season. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Earlier this year, the Idaho Wine Commission requested Ada County remove its ordinance requiring signatures from 75% of property owners within 1,000 feet to approve alcohol sales. This sparked fierce neighborhood opposition, with residents claiming they had a right to have a direct say over alcohol businesses moving into residential neighborhoods. 

The commissioners have now tabled their final decision on whether they will change the ordinance, and what those changes will be, twice. A decision is expected by the end of the summer after the Idaho Wine Commission conducts a series of public outreach sessions with neighbors in the hopes of finding common ground. 

3100 Cellars gets the green light, with a catch

After months of hearings stretching back to last fall, Hailey and Marshall Minder will likely be able to kick start their wine production and sales in the Eagle Foothills. Their sparkling winery, 3100 Cellars, currently has a tasting room and production facility in Garden City, but they hope to begin producing their wine at their vineyard and open up a tasting room to sell their wares. They also have conceptual plans for an 8,000 square foot wine production facility and tasting room on the east side of their property if their business expands, but there is no timeline on this project.

Ada County Commissioners unanimously granted them approval for a conditional use permit to operate their winery on their vineyard property, but it came with a catch. 3100 Cellars can only open their tasting room by appointment only for five-hour blocks between either 12-5, 1-6 or 2-7 five days a week and can only take a maximum of ten customers per day on weekdays or up to 30 on weekends. They are prohibited from having a commercial kitchen or food trucks, no amplified music and wine production operations can only happen between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Hailey and Marshall Minder. Courtesy of 3100 Cellars

No promotional events will be allowed, with the exception of two wine pickup events with up to 50 people over the course of three hours. 3100 Cellars can also receive only up to 20 truck deliveries per year from the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Originally, Ada County staff suggested only allowing deliveries in cars, pick-up trucks and vans, but after testimony from both Minders during the hearing about the type of vehicles delivering their grapes, glass bottles and other equipment commissioners opted to strike the vehicle type ban. 

Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said she wanted to balance the character of the area and the comfort of the existing neighbors with the hopes to expand wine production in Eagle. 

“It is a viticulture area and there will be boutique wineries, but we need to be very cognizant of not turning this into a large commercial or event center area,” she said. “That’s not what the original intentions were.”

Application for Dude DeWalt still up in the air

No one left happy after the Planning & Zoning hearing on Dude DeWalt Cellars’ application to become a designated event center.

Commissioners heard two appeals on the project Wednesday night, one from nearby neighbor Keith Hill, who hoped for more restrictions on the winery’s operations and another from winery owner Johnna Buchert who hoped for fewer restrictions. Under the event center designation, Dude DeWalt Cellars would no longer be limited to 24 events per year with a maximum of 50 guests. But, the P&Z commission also proposed a condition to cap the number of special events with more than 50 guests to 15 times per year and Dude DeWalt will be required to notify Ada County’s Planning Director every time one of these events is being held. 

These events are separate from day-to-day operations, where the owners expect roughly 200 people to visit the business per day. 

Hill, who lives on the property directly to the south, is vehemently opposed to Dude DeWalt Cellars. He showed several videos taken from his back deck where loud conversations and music from the winery were audible. He also expressed concerns over cars parking in the grass at the winery and raised concerns about drunk driving on Highway 16. Hill also hired a private investigator to visit Dude DeWalt Cellars who showed videos of the steep driveway to the winery, cars parked in unofficial parking spaces and alleged that a 19-year-old junior private investigator was served alcohol underage multiple times. 

“It’s not a wine tasting, it’s an outdoor bar,” Hill said during his testimony after showing clips of noisy gatherings at the business. 

In his appeal, he suggested several changes to the project, including a ban on outdoor amplified music and white wedding tents, no buses allowed to drop off patrons on-site and restricted hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. He also requested that eight-foot privacy walls be erected on the south end of the property to screen the winery from his property and to mitigate noise. 

Buchert is hoping for different changes from the Commissioners. In her appeal, she requested the county remove the cap on 15 events of more than 50 people per year and the requirement of prior notification of these large events to Ada County staff. Her attorney, Jeff Bower from Givens Pursley, argued Ada County had misinterpreted guidance from ITD when they put the cap on larger events and the location was ideal for an event center of this type due to its proximity to open land, with a few exceptions. 

“We think this is a great location for this type of use,” he told commissioners. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for these kinds of facilities and this is one with relatively few neighbors with great access.”

After the hearing, Commissioner Ryan Davidson said he needed more time to consider the reams of information connected to this application, some of which was newly presented at Wednesday’s hearing. The other commissioners agreed and unanimously decided to table their final decision until mid-June. 

“I don’t feel comfortable making a decision,” Davidson said. “I feel I would be rushing and I wouldn’t come to a decision I would be comfortable with.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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