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Winery owners fight moratorium on marketing events

Lodi City Council writes Planning Commission in support of winery events

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Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:29 am, Sat May 19, 2012.

At the urging of winery and business leaders, the Lodi City Council is sending a letter to the county opposing a proposed moratorium on new marketing events at area wineries.

Those events include weddings and concerts, which winery owners argue are a key part of promoting Lodi as a wine region.

"I can't think of anything worse to happen economically to our No. 1 growing industry," Lodi Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Pat Patrick told the council Wednesday night.

The San Joaquin County Planning Commission will meet on June 7 to discuss the ordinance.

Under the moratorium, if a winery does not already have permission to hold such events, they will not be able to in the future. Wineries that already have a permit would be able to continue having parties and other events, but they wouldn't be able to expand their marketing activities.

Regardless of the outcome, the commission's vote will likely be appealed to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.

The Lodi City Council's vote to oppose the moratorium was unanimous.

"We clearly understand the value these businesses bring, and the wine industry is our bread and butter," Mayor JoAnne Mounce said.

According to the staff report, city leaders are concerned that the ordinance could hurt Lodi's economy.

"While we are cognizant of the issues that have prompted the direction from the Board, staff feels that a text amendment revising the ordinance to prohibit future wineries from having marketing events is an overreaction," the staff report stated. "We feel a more measured approach is appropriate and would communicate this to the County Planning Commission."

The Lodi Chamber of Commerce said the ordinance is particularly troublesome because it does not have a sunset date. Because wineries depend so much on special events, a moratorium could stall or permanently end plans to build wineries that are in the middle of the permitting process, Patrick said.

Under the moratorium, no new marketing events would be approved until the new county General Plan is adopted, which could take years, Patrick said.

For example, the permitting process takes about two years, and if the ban is in effect for two to three years, that could delay a project by five years.

Patrick said there would be real consequences to expanding Lodi as a tourist destination.

"A wedding can be a great sampling event," Patrick said. "One hundred and fifty people might come to the community for the first time, and they might not even know Lodi made wine."

Wine and Roses was in a similar situation with the city back in 1998, owner Russ Munson said.

At the time, they were a bed and breakfast, and neighbors did not like the hotel's amplified music. The hotel worked with the city and neighbors to develop more detailed rules.

Since then, Wine and Roses has grown to an 80-room hotel on 12 1/2 acres with 400 events a year, and has no complaints from neighbors, Munson said.

A moratorium is not the answer, he said, because it could stop development permanently.

"If the city did a moratorium in the mid-'90s, there wouldn't be a Wine and Roses," he said.

Munson instead suggested that the county use the tools already in place to deal with any wineries that have disruptive events.

As a business owner who has invested millions in hotels in Lodi, Munson said the hotels need the wineries to drive people to visit Lodi.

"To stop us and put a cap on us would really hurt us, because we employ a lot of people," Munson said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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