Santa Clara Board Approves Ordinance to Improve Agri-Tourism and Winery Operations

On Tuesday, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt the Winery Ordinance, which provides clarity to winery regulations and reduces fees for event permits. The ordinance is intended to enhance the viability of local wineries and encourage agri-tourism.

Resolving issues of permits, fees, and regulations had been a goal of the Board since 2010, when members of the County staff began with representatives of the UC Cooperative Extension to discuss agricultural land use-issues. The participants of these meetings identified agri-tourism as being valuable to agricultural sustainability and began looking at ways for the County to better support agri-tourism.

The group participants determined that the current winery regulations fall short of providing desired clarity about allowed winery activities. To address that, the Planning Office began a comprehensive review of winery regulations with a focus on ways to better support wineries and to accommodate a greater range of winery marketing activities.

In August 2011, stakeholders formed a Wineries Working Group, which held nine public meetings and developed policy recommendations for the County Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee. That committee then held a series of public meetings to discuss issues associated with agri-tourism and special events, including outdoor amplified music.

They presented their ordinance to the Board.

“The Winery Ordinance is the result of a year-long extraordinary effort by staff and stakeholder groups,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, District 1. “This ordinance clarifies regulations for wineries, streamlines the permitting process, and reduces cost for wineries, which will help grow the local winery industry in the long run.”

The Supervisors considered recommendations of the Winery Working Group, a group of citizens formed to help develop the ordinance, the Planning Department and the Planning Commission in August. The new ordinance reflects the Board’s policy direction to significantly reduce event permit requirements and costs.

Subsequent to the August meeting, the Planning Office also reduced requirements for outdoor amplified music for small winery events. The ordinance now allows outdoor amplified music at small events via Outdoor Amplified Sound Permit for approximately $1,000 instead of via a Special Permit costing over $2,000. The Planning Office will evaluate noise impact issues on a case-by-case basis.

The ordinance specifies that private noncommercial and fundraising events benefiting nonprofit organizations of any size could be held at wineries in the unincorporated areas. The ordinance also promotes site and way-finding signage.

“The Winery Ordinance is the result of comprehensive outreach efforts,” said Ignacio Gonzalez, Director of County Department of Planning and Development. “Through a number of stakeholder meetings and workshops, we ensured that public opinions were reflected in the ordinance.”

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