Growth and wine collide: Homeowners, winery industry clash as development comes to Eagle foothills

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Mark Pasculli loves being outside. 

Once winter eases its grip, he tries to spend every minute possible enjoying his expansive wrap-around deck or working in his vineyard trimming vines with his two trusty golden retrievers at his side. The property he owns and runs with his wife Lori and their children is nestled in the Eagle foothills, largely surrounded by other small farms or single-family homes with expansive acreage. The Pascullis’ home and multiple varieties of wine grape vines have a commanding view of the rolling hills off in the distance. 

[Park no more: City of Eagle auctions off former park site]

But, right now, the only way his customers can enjoy the fruits of his labor in the vineyard is by visiting the Rolling Hills Vineyard’s tasting room on 52nd Street in Garden City.

“There’s a lot of great places down (in Garden City), but we have a lot of people we meet in the tasting room from Eagle and whenever you see them the first question is ‘When are you opening a tasting room on your property’. You can drink a glass of Cab Franc or Rose and the fruit is right there. (Customers) love to have that connection with the fruit and they love to walk around in the vineyard.”

The reason Rolling Hills and other small winegrowers in the Eagle Foothills American Viticulture Area aren’t building tasting rooms and wine production facilities on their properties is a regulation in Ada County’s code requiring 75% of adjacent property owners to sign a form signaling their approval for wine sales on their neighbor’s land. And at a time when rapid growth is coming to Ada County’s rural areas, neighbors are concerned about how a growing wine industry would impact their quiet neighborhood and traffic on the narrow country roads. 

Pasculli and other winegrowers say allowing Eagle to become a destination for wine tasting rooms will keep the area rural and add to the vibrancy of the area instead of letting it succumb to endless subdivisions. But, neighbors are hoping the county holds the line and keeps wine sales, and the potential for large events held at wineries, out of their backyards so the area can keep the bucolic feeling they know and love. 

What is the 75% rule? 

Eagle-based winegrowers face a unique regulatory environment to get up and going. 

Planting rows of wine grapes is regulated like any other agricultural use, but things get tricky when the farmer hopes to start making wine on their property or selling it to customers.  Vineyard owners must first get a conditional use permit for wine production or a tasting room and if that’s successful, they must then get 75% of their neighbors to sign in support. This can be especially challenging in large, rural areas where a single neighbor declining to support the project means it will not qualify to proceed. 

Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, told BoiseDev Ada County is the only county with this rule in place. She said it’s unclear where the rule came from, when it was enacted or why, she is hoping Ada County will soon decide to strike it from their books to allow wineries in Eagle to grow.

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

“You think ‘Yay I got my conditional use permit I’m good to go!’ but oh no you’re not, now you have to get 75% of your neighbors’ approval to have a business on your property,” Dolsby told BoiseDev. “It can be disheartening if you have two angry neighbors and yourself then you’re out of luck and you can’t have a winery. The cost is so expensive to do this.”

Ada County is currently working on updating its zoning code and is considering simplifying some of the regulations around wineries and event centers, but the county has not come to a formal decision about if it will remove the 75% rule yet. Any changes to the rule would be made by County Clerk Phil McGrane’s office.

“Development Services staff has heard requests to update our Zoning Code to simplify this situation while also ensuring predictability for surrounding property owners concerned with potential negative impacts (i.e. noise, traffic, etc.),” Community Planning Manager Leon Letson wrote in an email. “Any update would be thoroughly vetted with both Ada County leadership, interested stakeholders, and the general community.”

3100 Cellars facing opposition

Idaho’s only sparkling winery is facing an uphill battle to win neighbor support to move production out to the Eagle foothills. 

In September, 3100 Cellars filed a conditional use permit application for a winery and to host events of more than 50 people on their ten-acre property on Artemisa Lane in the Eagle Foothills. The land has been growing grapes since 2017 when Hailey Minder and her husband Marshall planted the property they purchased from Minder’s parents with dreams of creating a winery on-site instead of leasing space to make their product in another winery’s building. 

This CUP would allow them to process wine on the property in a shop they have constructed on-site that is currently sitting empty. In their application materials, Minder said the hope would be to use the event permit to host wine tasting by appointment for their wine club and small “in-house events” with the potential of some open drop-in hours for tastings in the future. They also requested a waiver for two events per year of no more than 110 people with off-site parking and a shuttle provided. 

While members of the 3100 Cellars wine club wrote in to Ada County’s Planning & Zoning with enthusiastic support of the Minders and their business, immediate neighbors weren’t thrilled. They wrote letters opposing the project, raising concerns about extra noise echoing from the vineyard off the foothills and disturbing them in their homes, drunk drivers leaving the tastings and heavy traffic on the narrow road to the winery causing more expense to landowners who have to maintain the shared drive. 

“Because our home sits on an elevated grade above the proposed commercial winery, we will be looking directly down on the entire operation in perpetuity, which will significantly impair our quality of life and long-term value of the property,” Brett and Marcie Keller, nearby property owners who hope to build a retirement home in the area, wrote in an email to Ada County. “As you can imagine, we are deeply concerned by this proposal and know that it will create a significant burden on ourselves and other residential homeowners in the area.”

Some in opposition also raised concerns that even though Minder said she didn’t plan to hold weddings with amplified sound or anything after 10 p.m quiet hours., the permit for the winery and events would stand if their business failed and was sold to someone else. Then, that new potential property owner would have carte blanche to host bigger events than what the Minders would. 

The opposition didn’t sway the Ada County Planning and Zoning staff from recommending approval for the winery and the Planning & Zoning Commission for voting to grant the conditional use permits in January. However, it has since been appealed to the Ada County Commissioners for a final decision. Even if it is approved there, they will still have to get 75% of adjacent property owners to sign in support given Ada County’s current rules. 

Minder declined to comment to BoiseDev for this story due to the ongoing appeal process, but she did extend an olive branch to neighbors in her application materials leading up to the hearing. 

“We really do want to be good neighbors,” Minder wrote. “And we want to be able to be part of the community up near our vineyard. If the county decides not to allow us to operate out of the existing building, we will still grow grapes there and would still like to be able to see all of you. If you ever want to discuss more about the project or share your concerns directly with us, please know that you can.”

Are wineries the key to keeping Idaho, Idaho? Or a disruption?

Being a small winery, like those in the Eagle area, isn’t cheap. 

Without the economies of scale on your side, Pasculli said the costs of growing and producing wine as a business with only five to ten acres of grapes isn’t easy. The costs to buy the land, maintain the grapes on your own property year after year and then lease the equipment and space to produce them into your product are high and it can be difficult to turn a profit. Pasculli said his business, Rolling Hills Winery, buys additional grapes from wineries in Walla Walla to help supplement his own crop that are more expensive than Idaho grapes off the vine. But because those wineries operate at such a larger scale for production, they can charge lower prices by the time the grapes are crushed and delivered for him to use. 

Turning a profit gets even harder as a small shop when you don’t have the ability to bring people onto your property to host tastings. Unlike 3100 Cellars, he doesn’t plan to build a production facility in Eagle and plans to continue leasing production space at a winery in the Sunnyslope area of Caldwell for now, but the idea of customers being able to visit his property and purchase is a big hope of his. 

Mark Pasculli, owner of Rolling Hills Vineyard, poses with his dogs and his vineyard in the Eagle Foothills. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

He says neighbors’ concerns about DUIs at wineries are overblown due to the tendency of wine drinkers to consume a relatively small amount over a long period of time filled with conversation and food. Pasculli also said wineries boost property values, instead of degrading them, but they also are better neighbors than a sea of dense townhomes and subdivisions would be. 

“If anybody doesn’t think that in 40 or 50 years from now, the foothills won’t be all housing developments they’re kidding themselves,” he said. “The west is littered with development pushing out agricultural ground and I’m just pretty adamant about the fact that the challenge to people is ‘Do you want Idaho to remain Idaho? Would you rather see the foothills have acres and acres of vineyard and some tasting rooms and wineries amongst the houses or do you just want to see houses?’” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article implied the wrong county department was responsible for the 75% rule. It has been changed to reflect that the Ada County Clerk’s Office oversees this regulation.

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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