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San Joaquin County planners approve agriculture store, deli at Viaggio Winery

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Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:59 am, Fri Oct 19, 2012.

The owners of Viaggio Winery have permission to move forward on their plans to open a large agriculture store and deli on their property, despite opposition from the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.

The San Joaquin County Planning Commission approved a permit application from the six owners of Viaggio.

Larry and Terri Lawrence were present at the meeting to represent the owners. Leo and Darla Van Warmerdam and Gerald and Debbie Schwartz are also co-owners. All three men are past presidents of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau.

The planned sales area is a 500-square-foot space in an existing building. Right now, the space is used for wine storage, but that will be moved to another area.

A commercial kitchen is already in the space, along with a food preparation area. These will be put to use making pies, sandwiches and other goods from produce grown on-site. A garden already exists to grow squash, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and other produce. The land also grows winegrapes, table grapes, apples and olives.

A small seating area will also be installed.

"We have a beautiful manicured lawn leading up to the river. People come to us for winetasting and leave because we don't have food to offer them," said Larry Lawrence on Thursday.

As growers and winemakers, the group already had the right to sell fruits, vegetables and nuts from a simple farmstand. The Lawrences said they wanted to do more.

"Our goal is to have all the produce grown here. Yes, we can put them in a bin and stick a sign on it — or we could get the ag store approval and bring that inside," said Terri Lawrence. The owners want the sale of produce and food to match up to the upscale Tuscan decor and manicured grounds.

Commissioner Stan Morri seemed uneasy with the idea.

"Do you really think people are going to drive from highway 5 to buy a squash?" said Morri.

"I sure hope so," said Larry Lawrence.

Katie Patterson, program director with the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, opposed the plan on the ground that adding a store and a deli takes away from the strict agricultural purposes required of Williams Act land.

"Nothing is easy in agriculture, unfortunately," she said. "We want to make sure they're successful in a way that allows us to protect the land."

To remove the Williams Act designation from the property would take either 10 years for a non-renewal, or significant fees to complete it more quickly, said planning commission staff Kerri Sullivan.

"As a farm bureau member, I do not want to harm them in any way with my actions with this parcel," said Larry Lawrence.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the application, despite some reservations.

"I think I will live to regret voicing my approval, but I can't find a reason to abstain," said Morri.

There are 10 days to file an appeal to the decision. Patterson said she will review the decision with bureau officials.

The commissioners seemed open to the idea of removing the land from Williams Act designation, something the Farm Bureau does not want to see, said Patterson.

"The Bureau is dedicated to preserving designated farmland, and I don't believe the commission is doing a very good job of that," she said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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