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San Joaquin County Planning Commission approves St. Jorge Winery expansion

Area residents plan to appeal

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Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:46 am, Fri Sep 21, 2012.

Before a packed house of more than 50 people, the San Joaquin County Planning Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to allow St. Jorge Winery to have more public events and add buildings.

The vote came despite several protests from neighboring property owners who complained about noise, traffic and other issues at the Acampo winery.

"Sound carries very easily in the country," neighbor Judy Isola told the commission.

County planner Mo Hatef reported that the county had begun enforcement action against St. Jorge owners Vern and Jenise Vierra because they had begun construction of an amphitheater and commercial kitchen without a permit from the county.

In addition, the winery held events with more than the 25 guests permitted by county planners, according to a staff report by Hatef.

Land use attorney Mike Hakeem, representing the Vierras, admitted that his clients had built without a permit and apologized to the commission and planning staff members.

"It is clear they have made some significant mistakes," Hakeem told the Planning Commission.

Commissioners voted in Vierra's favor after hearing from angry neighbors who noted that the 27 homes on Taddei Road are more of a residential neighborhood.

"Why do wineries get preference over homeowners?" Isola said after the meeting. "We are definitely going to appeal."

Attorney Paul Hagen, representing the opponents of the St. Jorge expansion plans, confirmed that the Planning Commission's decision will be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.

Hakeem said that despite commissioners' approval, the Vierras can't continue their expansion until after the appeal is heard.

Commissioners Miguel Villapudua, Stan Morri and Clem Lee supported the St. Jorge project, while Linden farmer Randy Hamilton, who represents the Lodi area, and commission chairman Peter Johnson cast dissenting votes.

Although they were outnumbered, a few neighbors supported the St. Jorge project. One nearby resident said there is a lot more noise from drunk people on the Mokelumne River, which is adjacent to the winery and neighborhood homes.

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation opposed the project because wineries should be based on wine production first, with entertainment and parties being a secondary use, said Farm Bureau representative Katie Patterson.

Johnson said he doesn't support any winery expansion approvals until after the Winery Ordinance Task Force makes a recommendation on the existing ordinance.

The task force, established in June, consists of representatives of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, Lodi District Grape Growers Association, San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation and Visit Lodi!

The task force had conducted eight meetings since July, but it is taking some time off until after the grape harvest, which will begin shortly, said Patterson, who serves on the task force.

The task force submitted a "good neighbor policy" that calls for wineries to be respectful of neighbors and their property, allowing them to enjoy peaceful country living.

Hours, frequency of events, noise and parking regulations are to be in compliance with the county, according to the good neighbor policy. Parking shall be provided within the winery on wine cellar boundaries, and not on a public roadside.

"In general, we are all good neighbors, and we should treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated," the policy reads.

The task force recommendations will be submitted to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for approval. An update on the task force's progress is scheduled for November, Patterson said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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