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San Joaquin County planners oppose wine events moratorium

Final decision on events rests with supervisors; January vote expected

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Posted: Friday, November 22, 2013 12:00 am

A divided San Joaquin County Planning Commission voted Thursday to continue allowing wineries to apply to the county for events such as weddings and concerts until the county’s new general plan is adopted.

Thursday’s vote came after the Board of Supervisors asked commissioners to adopt a one-year moratorium on special marketing events at rural wineries. The commission voted 3-2 to oppose the moratorium. Commissioners Clem Lee and Chris Kontos supported the moratorium, so that county officials can have some time to work out a suitable revision to the ordinance that regulates winery use.

Commissioners Miguel Villapudua, Stan Mori and Randy Hamilton voted against the moratorium.

The Board of Supervisors, which has final discretion, will also deliberate the moratorium issue, probably on Jan. 14, according to Community Development Director Kerry Sullivan.

Thursday’s public hearing before the Planning Commission in Stockton continued an almost two-year-long debate about whether wineries should be focused primarily on wine production or on special events to market the wine.

It’s been a bitterly fought battle, with neighbors complaining about excessive noise and parking issues, while others argue that the special events stimulate the economy by bringing visitors to Lodi.

“I can tell you that winery events are a draw for this area,” said Nancy Beckman, CEO of Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Center.

Beckman and Lodi Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Pat Patrick argued that winery events produce more jobs during a time when jobs are scarce.

Kontos, agreeing that winery owners don’t know what to expect when they come to the Planning Commission for a marketing request, supported the moratorium because it would encourage competing interests to come to the table and reach a compromise.

Tina Lent, who owns a small catering business in Lodi, said that she and her husband Brian rely heavily on wine marketing events like weddings and concerts for business, especially on weekends.

Meanwhile, Nancy Hennefer, who lives west of Lodi on Turner Road, said she is upset with neighboring wineries that have amplified rock and roll music, disco and “screeching vocalists.”

“They don’t market their wine; they market the band,” Hennefer said. “These are nightclub concerts. That is not emotion. That is fact.”

Beckman replied, “We don’t want for there to be noise and parking issues either.”

Without a moratorium, Lee said, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors don’t have a winery ordinance that clearly defines what can and can’t be done. Lee said he has often called Planning Commission meetings “board amateur night” whenever an application to add winery events is on the agenda.

“We need a little bit of time to work this out,” Lee said. “If you want to continue amateur night, bring it on.”

Lee added after commissioners voted against a moratorium, “It’s unprofessional. It’s amateur night at wineland here.”

Mori noted that a decision on whether there should be a moratorium lies with the Board of Supervisors regardless of the Planning Commission’s vote.

“The Planning Commission is nothing more than a sounding board between the public and the Board of Supervisors,” Mori said.

Hamilton, a Linden resident who represents the Lodi area on the county Planning Commission, acknowledged that a few wineries violate county regulations regarding music noise levels, traffic and parking, but he said a moratorium is not the answer.

The fault lies with the Board of Supervisors, he said, because money wasn’t allocated from the county budget to allow the Community Development Department to fulfill its code enforcement duties and monitor noise, traffic and other issues at wineries during their events.

Three wineries have applications for marketing events pending with the county. Phillips Farms on Highway 12 is scheduled for a Dec. 19 Planning Commission hearing for its application to have 25 marketing events per year with up to 150 people attending each event.

Other applications for marketing events have been filed by Coldani Farm Vineyards and McCay Cellars, both in the Lodi area.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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