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Ada County Commisioners weighing regulations on wineries and neighborhood concerns

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Ada County is hoping to broker a compromise between cutting regulations on wineries in rural areas and neighbors hoping to keep their say over who can and cannot sell alcohol near their properties. 

This week, the Ada County Commissioners held two public hearings about wineries and other alcohol-based businesses in unincorporated Ada County. The first was a hearing on a conditional use permit application for a winery with an event permit on Artemisa Lane in the foothills of Eagle, which garnered multiple hours of testimony in opposition from neighbors in opposition. The second was a public hearing on the possibility of removing an ordinance requiring signatures from 75% of residents within 1,000 feet of a property to approve alcohol sales on site. 

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In both cases, the commissioners said they hoped to weigh their desire to keep Ada County’s regulations on businesses as streamlined as possible while honoring concerns from neighbors worried about traffic, noise, and other disruptions from commercial alcohol sales in their backyard. 

“I want to strike a balance between government being onerous and having to do things twice, but also making sure people have real adequate opportunity to weigh in,” Democrat Commissioner Kenyon told a crowd of a dozen attendees on Thursday morning. 

What is the 75% rule?

Ada County’s regulations on businesses selling alcohol are unique in Idaho. 

Unlike the state licensing process or any other county, if you would like to sell beer or wine in unincorporated Ada County you must obtain the signatures from 75% of property owners within 1,000 feet. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said no one currently working for the county is familiar with when the law was put on the books, why it was implemented or if it has connections to Idaho’s history of temperance. 

The rule doesn’t just impact wineries. Signatures are also required for businesses like gas stations hoping to sell beer and wine or in a situation where businesses with an alcohol license have a change in circumstances, such as the case of the Dry Creek Mercantile in Hidden Springs changing hands. McGrane said there have been issues gathering signatures from out-of-state property owners.

If a business cannot get the necessary signatures, they can request the requirement be waived by the Ada County Commissioners if they have “good cause.” Republican Commissioner Rod Beck referred to the signature requirement as “almost advisory” for this reason during Thursday’s hearing. 

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 approached the Ada County Commissioners requesting the rule be rescinded after prospective wineries in Eagle started running into problems with earning enough signatures to get a license. The Idaho Wine Commission and others in the industry are in support, but neighbors came out at Wednesday’s public hearing to protest its removal. 

David Castro, one of the neighbors heavily opposed to the winery on Artemisa Lane, told the commissioners that the neighbors deserved to have a voice and a way to reject commercial agricultural enterprises coming into their neighborhood. 

“This seems like a lobbying effort from the wineries and other event venues to amend the ordinance they know they can’t comply with in order to get approval and a license to sell alcohol regardless of their neighbors’ wishes,” he said. “There isn’t any argument for modifying this ordinance other than a disregard of neighbors and nearby residents’ property rights to preserve the sanctity, safety and property values in the district that they chose to live in based on current code restrictions.”

New proposal due back in a month

The commissioners decided the rule shouldn’t be done away with completely, but it shouldn’t stay in its current form either. 

Kenyon said the current process requires businesses to jump through a multi-step process with the requirement of both a conditional use permit and the signature requirement. She suggested staff from the county’s legal department, planning & development services and the county clerk’s office work together over the next month to propose a streamlined approval process. Her hope is this will still allow neighbors to weigh in, while keeping regulations on businesses as limited as possible. 

Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson said one idea he would like to consider is increasing the radius of what properties are notified when a property owner applies for an alcohol sales permit. 

“Because we have such large lots in the county, maybe we should look at increasing the radius somewhat,” he said. “I think those are things we could look at and based on the community interest I think we need to table this for now and take a better look at it.”

Commissioners are planning to hold a public hearing and vote on changing the ordinance May 24. 

Hours of debate over 3100 Cellars

One winery’s application to build a tasting room was a major part of stirring up this controversy. 

Last fall, 3100 Cellars, a sparkling winery, submitted an application for a conditional use permit for a winery and to host events of more than 50 people on their 10-acre property on Artemisa Lane. The land has been growing wine grapes since 2017 when Hailey Minder and her husband Marshall planted on the property, but their moves to start producing wine on site and selling it in tastings have hit an uphill battle. 

Neighbors came out in force during the Planning & Zoning hearings on the CUP and again Wednesday night when the Ada County Commissioners were asked to make the final decision on the project. They raised a slew of objections, including concerns about noise from events, heavy truck traffic on their rural roads, drunk drivers, and alleged that the county violated its own code through the hearing and application process. 

At the conclusion of the hours-long hearing, the commissioners again decided to take the middle road with a final decision coming June 1. Kenyon suggested a range of conditions on the Minders to 3100 Cellars in the foothills, such as a ban on promotional events, they will be limited to only two wine club pick up events per year, production hours will be limited from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. five days a week and wine tastings must be by appointment only with fewer than ten people between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. Food trucks or a commercial kitchen will also not be allowed. 

Kenyon and the other commissioners also asked county staff to take the next month to investigate several lingering questions they have. Staff will be developing guidelines on the appropriate size of truck to complete deliveries to the site and investigating if the Minders committed code violations. They will also be talking with Central District Health to learn more about the agency’s decision to approve changing the sewer designation from residential to commercial because the Minders would like to convert the small apartment on-site to a wine tasting room. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified who neighbors say violated Ada County’s zoning code in the application process for 3100 Cellars. It has been corrected to reflect that neighbors believe Ada County’s Development Services Department and its Planning & Zoning Commission have committed code violations.

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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