Ada County Commissioners table alcohol sale ordinance a second time after tense meeting

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A month later, Ada County has still not resolved the dispute over its ordinance requiring signatures for alcohol to be sold outside of city limits. 

Ada County is the only county in Idaho with an ordinance on its books requiring anyone who wishes to sell beer or wine in unincorporated areas of the county to obtain 75% of the signatures of property owners within 1,000 feet of the proposed business. Earlier this year, the Idaho Wine Commission asked the Ada County Commissioners to do away with this rule after some Eagle foothills residents heavily opposed the growth of the wine industry in the area. 

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Homeowners vehemently disagreed with the idea and took their feedback to the Ada County Courthouse to share with commissioners their displeasure at the possibility of the ordinance going away. In mid-April, the commissioners opted to pull back on eliminating the ordinance and asked staff to return with a compromise policy to reduce regulations on private businesses and also address neighborhood concerns. 

But, the latest compromise resulted in a testy meeting on Tuesday. The board opted to send the Idaho Wine Commission out to conduct community workshops in collaboration with county staff to find a better alternative both sides can live with. The wine industry and county staff are expected to return with a new proposal for the Ada County Commissioners to consider at the end of the summer. 

What was the new proposal?

Anyone who would like to sell alcohol in unincorporated Ada County right now has to go through two separate processes to get their business approved. 

This includes a land-use process to obtain a conditional use permit, rezone or other allowance to construct their business if it is not already allowed by right. This must be approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission, or if it is appealed, by the Ada County Commissioners. On top of that, anyone wishing to sell alcohol in the unincorporated county (whether they are a winery, brewery or convenience store) must gather 75% of signatures from property owners within a 1,000-foot radius. 

The revamped proposal Ada County staff brought forward would have kept the signature requirement, but dropped the percentage of surrounding property owners required to sign in favor to 67% instead of 75%. It also said anyone who was currently selling alcohol but planning to sell to someone else would not be required to gather signatures again and would be grandfathered in. 

These requirements would also be mailed out to residents along with the notification if someone was seeking a conditional use permit to sell alcohol. 

Conversation tabled a second time

Dozens of residents and wine industry supporters showed up to Tuesday’s meeting interested to see the outcome of the vote on the ordinance. At the top of the meeting, county officials presented information about the proposal and passed copies of the ordinance out to the crowd for them to study for the first time before testifying at the end of the meeting. 

Commissioners went on to conduct other business and came back to hear from representatives from the crowd, which got tense quickly. David Castro, a neighborhood association president from the Eagle foothills area, started his testimony by sharply questioning Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane over aspects of the law and alleged the county was not enforcing its own code. 

After some back and forth, Commissioner Kendra Kenyon broke into the conversation and made a motion to stop testimony and send the Idaho Wine Commission out to do public outreach before developing an alternative proposal. She said that would clear up confusion and a tense question and answer exchange between elected officials, staff and members of the audience was not productive. 

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

“I’m not very happy that the wine commission is not having conversations with neighbors,” she said. “This is a viticulture area where people have lived there pretty much their entire lives and to come before this board without any discussion or workshops out in the community is really premature and we’re seeing that play out.”

Commissioner Rod Beck agreed and halted the back and forth with questions. But, after pushes from Commissioner Ryan Davidson to allow one representative from each side of the debate to give their perspective for five minutes, testimony proceeded. Castro then proceeded to accuse the Idaho Wine Commission of violating the Idaho state code by lobbying the Ada County Commissioners. He specifically called out Rolling Hills Vineyard co-owner Mark Pasculli for breaking ethics rules by working to change county code for his own personal gain.

Sparks fly in testimony

Castro intimated he would be making a complaint about the Idaho Wine Commission’s push to remove the ordinance to the Idaho Attorney General. He went on to raise concerns about wineries’ impacts on neighborhoods with traffic, noise and the risk of drunk drivers. 

“It is shocking to me that such an obvious misuse of the power of a state agency be used to further the financial personal interests of an official,” Castro said, about Pasculli. “The Idaho Wine Commission wants you to believe their wine drinkers are a better class of people who don’t overindulge and who obey the laws. This is unequivocally untrue and borders on absurd.”

After some back and forth, Pasculli came up to testify on the ordinance. He tried to ask several questions about the ordinance, but was told this was not the venue and to only share his thoughts on the ordinance. He did not go into specifics about what he thought about Ada County’s proposal, but he criticized Castro for his comments. 

“Mr. Castro doesn’t like me, which is fine,” Pasculli said. “I don’t particularly care for him. He has seemed to though want to defame an industry and go to the lowest common denominator. He can pontificate all he wants, but he’s doing it from a premise of ignorance and primarily most of what he said isn’t true.”

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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