Wineries and tasting rooms near Woodinville are fighting a proposed King County ordinance they say would put them out of business.
"The fear is this is going to be a small business killer," said Cliff Otis, owner of Matthews Winery. "When it comes to land-use as a home-based business, they don't quite know what to do with home-based businesses so they're going to outlaw them."
The Adult Beverage Winery Ordinance was proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine after working with stakeholders and property owners. It was sent to the King County Council and a vote is expected this summer.
"Our current codes that regulate businesses like wineries have been outdated for many years," said Jim Chan, Interim Director of the King County Department of Permitting and Environmental Review, "The business itself has outgrown the code, meaning it wasn't meant to cover these types of businesses and the explosion of this type of commercial use in rural King County."
Chan told KIRO-7 the county found 57 businesses in violation.
"We determined not only did they not have permits to operate, they did not have health, sanitation or clean water sources to operate. So that becomes a health safety issue as well as a zoning issue," said Chan.
Matthews Winery and other wineries are operating under a King County Settlement Agreement that was put in place in January 2016. The businesses are allowed to continue operating while the ordinances are overhauled because there was no pathway under the current rules to get a permit for Rural Area- zoned land.
Cliff Otis is frustrated. He said he's already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet King County's code requirements.
"We've done all the things King County wanted us to do - we've done a septic permit, we've done a clearing and grading permit, we've done the traffic concurrency studies," said Otis.
But then he said King County put it all on hold while the new ordinance is written.
Larry Scrivanich owns the property that houses the tasting rooms for Genoa Cellars and Cave B. He said King County keeps raising the bar.
"We're following the rules we were told to follow by King County and now we're getting portrayed as illegal, which isn't fair," said Scrivanich.
The proposed ordinance made by King County late last month would limit the hours of operation to Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. through 5.p.m. and Friday through Sunday 11 a.m. through 9 p.m.
"Who would want their business shutting down at 5 o'clock in the afternoon Monday through Thursday? We want to be open until 10 at night," said Otis.
At Forgeron Cellars tasting room, Barb Larimer has the same concern.
"If we can't operate past 5 p.m., a lot of people can't enjoy the tasting room or come buy some wine. Fifty percent of the revenue is received after 5 p.m.," said Larimer.
The ordinance would also limit the amount of parking. A 1,000-square-foot tasting room would get 3.5 parking places under the proposed ordinance.
The number of events at a winery would be limited to 24 each year and would require a temporary use permit.
"Any event that occurs in the normal business operation should be approved rather than being prescribed 24 events a year," said Otis.
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Sixteen wineries and tasting rooms teamed up and sent a letter to the King County council hoping to get them to make changes to the proposed ordinance.
"If the new rules as stated are adopted for Winery III operations of 4.5 acres+ in size, we will need to get a conditional use permit," said Otis. He says that process costs between $50-$100,000 to complete, which is in addition to what he's already spent.
After Matthews Winery gets a permit, Otis says he would need to spend $200,000-400,000 to meet all of the new requirements. Otis says coming up with $400,000-$500,000 is tough for any small business. He wants the permitting process simplified.
Otis hopes the King County Council will give businesses time to complete the process after they vote, for Matthews Winery that could take up to 2 years.
"Our concern is that they will use the new ordinances to effectively shut us and others down by not allowing us enough time to complete this process or putting up other roadblocks that don't exist right now, “said Otis, “If that happens then our only recourse will be to challenge that in court."
Otis said members of the King County council will tour some of the wineries and tasting rooms next month. Matthews Winery is on the list and Otis hopes council members will be willing to adjust parts of the ordinance so it doesn't force businesses to shut down.
If the proposed ordinance is voted in without any changes, "it could put us out of business," said Otis.
"We all agree that land use is a critical issue that must be addressed for winery, craft and distillery businesses in rural King County," said Otis, " We know we will not get all that we want but we need to get changes made that will not cripple our business."
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