Wine commission ends push to change Ada Co. law on tasting rooms. But it might try another approach

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Ada County’s signature requirements for alcohol and wine sales are staying on the books for now. 

After months of tense discussions between the Ada County Commissioners, the Idaho Wine Commission and residents of the small wine region in the Eagle Foothills, the wine commission has stepped back from lobbying for changes to the county’s regulations. Instead, the group is now considering state legislation to roll back regulations on wine and beer sales in Idaho. 

“We are going to continue to work to promote Idaho’s wine community in and out of the state,” Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Dolsby wrote in an email. “We are exploring the idea of doing legislation. As you know that can be a long process.”

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. The Idaho Wine Commission approached Ada County earlier this year requesting county commissioners repeal the ordinance because of the burden it puts on locally owned wineries hoping to create tasting rooms along with their vineyards. 

A view of Rolling Hills vineyard in the Eagle foothills. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

The commissioners seemed open to the idea of nixing the ordinance at first, but after several meetings where neighbors expressed strong disapproval to the possibility of the ordinance going away and the expansion of alcohol sales in their area. Commissioners tabled a decision on the issue twice since March. But now, it’s unknown when or if the county will take the issue back up again. 

“I think our intention is to leave the 75% rule the way it is and if the Wine Commission wants to have some neighborhood meet and greets they can circle back with us to see if they want to continue with this (discussion) or maybe they won’t,” Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said in an interview. “I think the ball is in their court.”

Commissioners Ryan Davidson and Rod Beck did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the 75% rule and their plans for the future of the ordinance. 

A direction and a letter in return

Kenyon ended the last conflict-filled meeting asking the Idaho Wine Commission to do public outreach before returning with a compromise proposal the county can move ahead on. 

On May 27, the Wine Commission sent the Ada County Commissioners a letter saying they are not authorized by state code to “advocate or represent” individual grape growers or wineries. The letter said the association will continue to meet with the commissioners to provide general information on the wine industry and how the county can support its three existing wineries and the two possible wineries.

“Here, our role is to discuss how ordinances and zoning policy might impact the Idaho wine industry, both positively and negatively,” Dolsby wrote in the letter. “It is not within Idaho Wines’ role to meet with and establish an agreement between the parties in a specific zoning matter or to mediate between differing groups concerning a proposed county ordinance.”

This response confused Kenyon. She said the board’s hope wasn’t for the Wine Commission to advocate for any specific businesses, but to get to know the neighbors and find a proposal everyone could support. She hoped the county could find a solution that balances the needs of small businesses to grow in Ada County while respecting the needs of rural residents. 

“I think coming to the government to solve neighborhood disputes is the last thing you want,” Kenyon told BoiseDev. “You want to go out and work with your neighbors and we were giving them an opportunity to do that, but looking at the letter that was sent over this goes back to them requesting through the clerk of the court to get rid of the 75% signature initiative and looking at this letter, I think we’re miscommunicating. I don’t think I meant to or the board meant to say ‘go out and broker deals for individual wineries’.”

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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