Winery Ordinance Q & A
If you would like to see this success carried into the coming years, now is a crucial time to once again make our voices heard.
Decisions will soon be made by King County that will effect our community in the near future and for decades to come. Depending on how this process plays out, the changes could be very good for continuing to enjoy the special area in which we live. Or, if certain proposals go forward in their current form, our neighborhood and the Valley will look and feel very different in short order.
A coalition called Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV) has come together over the past year to address these proposed King County policy changes. The Hollywood Hill Association is an integral part of this coalition.
The key to successfully steering policies in directions that will continue to protect our Rural neighborhood and the Sammamish Valley farmlands is informed and engaged citizens: that means YOU!
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about the issues at hand. If you have further questions, please contact an HHA board member. You can also find more information at the FoSV website:
Q: What is the main issue that Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV) was founded to address?
A: Our immediate concern is the proposed Beverage Ordinance being considered by King County. The current version of this ordinance would change the zoning code that has for decades protected our Rural areas, such as Hollywood Hill and the Sammamish Valley farm lands, from urban development. If this proposed ordinance is enacted in its current form, the rural character of our community would quickly be lost. Traffic along the Redmond-Woodinville Road would become worse than it already is. Our community's quality of life would suffer, as would the value of our properties, and the green open spaces and farms of the Valley would become just fond memories.
Q: Would this proposed ordinance affect just the Woodinville area?
A: No. While Hollywood Hill and the Sammamish Valley farmlands are ground zero for this issue, this ordinance would be applied across Rural unincorporated King County, from the Snoqualmie Valley to to Enumclaw plateau.
Q: What is FoSV doing to address this?
A: 1.) FoSV has developed an alternative ordinance that would close loopholes in the County’s current proposal which would open up our Rural areas to urban uses such as retail sales outlets and industrial food processing activities. FoSV’s alternative would also continue allowing production wineries, breweries and distilleries in the Rural areas, which have been legal for two decades, and also includes several positive elements of the County’s proposal.
2.) Citizen involvement. FoSV has and continues to conduct outreach to inform citizens of the issues and aiding coordination of citizen involvement and input to our County policymakers.
3.) As this ordinance will have county and state-wide ramifications, FoSV has reached to citizens and groups around King County and Washington State to join with our coalition.
Q: Why would King County change laws that have worked well for decades and protected the ambiance that is the foundation of our unique Woodinville wine country experience?
A: The fundamental reason is that certain land speculators and development interests stand to make windfall profits if they can find a way around the laws that have protected the Rural Areas from denser urban development. They have been busy convincing our policymakers to support changes that would accomplish their goals. There have been many attempts, in various forms, to do that over the past decades. Most have failed, which is why we still have our Rural Hollywood Hill neighborhood and the lovely Sammamish Valley so close to the cities.
Q: We hear this called the “winery ordinance”. Some say the County would have to shut down the wineries if this ordinance doesn’t get passed. Is FoSV trying to shut down wineries?
A: Not at all. It is important to understand that “wineries” are places where wine is produced. Wineries are currently legal, both inside and outside of city limits. They would remain so under any of the proposals being put forward, including FoSV’s alternative. Wineries in the Rural areas can include tasting rooms where sales of products made on-site are permitted. Actual wineries would not be shut down under any of the proposals being put forward.
Q: If “wineries” aren’t the problem then what are?
A: The problem businesses are a handful of illegally operating businesses, including "remote tasting rooms” and “event centers” located outside of city limits on Rural residential lots along the bottom of Hollywood Hill. These “remote tasting rooms" are not wineries - they are retail outlets for products made elsewhere. While such retail businesses are legal inside the city, the Rural zoning that protect our homes and farm lands do not permit retail stores in general, whether the products are furniture, clothing or automobiles, restaurants, or, in the cases at hand, liquor stores and bars. Event centers are not a permitted use in the Rural Area and are in effect mini convention centers. These enterprises are urban in nature and are appropriately and legally accommodated inside city boundaries (Urban Growth Areas - UGAs).
Q: We often hear these remote tasting rooms calling themselves “wineries”.
A: Some remote tasting room operators refer to themselves as “wineries”. But as discussed above, wineries are where the wine is made and the businesses at issue do not make their product on-site and thus are simply retail sales outlets, not wineries.
Q: We like the wineries and restaurants that have sprung up around around the Woodinville area. How widespread is the problem?
A: The vast majority of the wine-related businesses in our area are legal and are not the problem. Many of us enjoy them and we want to continue to support them. There are over 130 wineries, breweries, distilleries and remote tasting rooms operating legally, mostly inside the city of Woodinville. The problem lies with a handful of illegal operations - 8 at last count - that have popped up just outside city limits, in the Rural areas.
Q: So, amongst the 130+ winery-related businesses around Woodinville, which 8 businesses are operating illegally?
A: They are all located along the Woodinville-Redmond Road, at the bottom of Hollywood Hill. From north to south they are:
1 - Matthew’s (tasting room and events)
2 - Feliciano (tasting room and events)
3 - Fish Brew's Tavern/Silver Lake (tasting rooms and events)
4 - Cave B (tasting room)
5 - Forgeron (tasting room)
6 - Cougar Crest (tasting room)
7 - DeLill Cellars Chateau (events only).
8 - The “French Bakery” property at the north end. This violator, Icarus Holdings LLC, is located on an Ag-zoned property and has numerous open code violations, including retail food sales, compacting high quality ag soils, building without permits, etc.
* (A few examples of the 130+ businesses operating legally inside the city include: Hollywood Tavern, Ste Michelle, Columbia, Novelty Hill-Januik Winery, Teatro Zinzani, Brian Carter Winery, Willows Lodge, Apple Farm Village, Purple, Vivi’s, the Hollywood Schoolhouse, The Bistro, Village Wines and many others.)
Q: These illegal businesses have been operating for years and appear to be legal. Wouldn’t the County have done something by now to enforce the zoning if they were illegal?
A: If King County had been doing its job to enforce the zoning laws that protect our communities over the past 10 years, we wouldn’t have the problem at hand. But the County's intentional failure to enforce its own code has allowed these few violations to persist, which has encouraged others to follow suit. The persistence of these violations is now being used by the illegal operators and land speculators as justification to support the County’s current proposal that threatens our neighborhood and farmlands. It is not difficult to be a law abiding business - 95+% of wineries operate legally. It seems astounding that the County would consider passing an ordinance that would reward those who have flagrantly violated the law for years.
Q: It the County’s code enforcement not doing its job is the cause of the problems, shouldn’t the County be focusing on that first?
A: Yes. Putting the Beverage Ordinance ahead of code enforcement reform is treating the symptoms and doing little to address the cause of these problems. Underlying politics have brought us this cart-before-the-horse situation. Such reform is a parallel effort we have been pushing for years and the County really should have tackled reform before the Beverage Ordinance. We hope to be hearing more about reform in the near future.
Q: We hear a lot about what’s allowed in Urban, or “inside city limits” areas, vs areas that are Rural, like Hollywood Hill. But it’s hard to see any city boundaries in this area. No signs, no clear definition on the ground. Where are these boundaries?
A: The city boundaries are rather convoluted, which is part of the charm of the Valley, but also confusing. It would help if the city would install signs, as has been done on numerous other gateway roads.
Here is a map of the area:
The RED line is the boundary between the Urban areas (cities) and the Rural areas.
- Hollywood Hill is the light Green area, RA 2.5.
- The Sammamish Valley farmlands are the darker Green area, A 10.
- The Redmond-Woodinville Road runs along the boundary between the A-10 and the RA 2.5.
Urban areas: The Tan areas are the Urban areas (cities):
- Woodinville to the north (top)
- Kirkland to the west (left)
- Redmond to the south (bottom)
Note the tan area labelled “Woodinville Tourist District”. This is a part of the City of Woodinville centered around the big roundabout near the Hollywood Schoolhouse. It is essentially an island surrounded by Rural area and is where much of the confusion lies.
Q: If King County started enforcing its zoning, would this shut down wineries and tasting rooms inside the city limits of Woodinville?
A: No. Wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and other retail businesses have always been legal inside the cities’ boundaries, like in Woodinville, where the vast majority of the wine related businesses are located. King County is only responsible for code enforcement outside of the cities, in Rural unincorporated areas.
Q: If the county began enforcing its zoning outside the cities, would it shut down all the wineries in the Rural areas?
A: No. Wineries have been legal in King County’s Rural areas for almost 20 years and would continue to be so under FoSV’s proposed ordinance. As stated above, “wineries” are places where wine is actually made. This starts with the crush of the grapes and includes fermentation, conditioning and aging. Wineries can include tasting rooms and sales of products made on-site. None of the problems around the Sammamish Valley are with actual wineries, breweries or distilleries.
Q: If it’s only about 8 violators, then why not just grandfather those and not allow any more?
A. First, it is wrong to reward people who are knowingly breaking the law by exempting them from that law.
- Second, a “grandfathered” activity (technically called a legal non-conforming use) infers that an activity was legal before a change in the zoning codes no longer allows that use. These businesses at issue have been in open violation of the zoning codes and so do not qualify for such status.
- Third, this would set a precedent where others could do the same and demand similar treatment.
- Fourth, it would not be fair to the majority of our business community that has spent the time and resources to abide by the zoning and codes.
- Fifth, this would do nothing to address the underlying problem, which is the King County’s failure to enforce the laws that protect our homes and businesses.
Q: Has this lack of code enforcement misled the violators into thinking their businesses are really legal?
A: Not at all. These individuals have known for years that their operations are in violation of the applicable zoning. King County codes are clear on the issues of retail sales in the Rural area and it’s a stretch for the violators to claim they didn’t carry out due diligence in understanding what can and cannot be done on their properties. But even in this unlikely event, King County’s code enforcement clearly explained the zoning to them years ago and, when the activities didn’t stop voluntarily, opened cases against those violations. Even so, certain people have ignored the law, continued their violating activities and, in several cases, greatly expanded them. Several of these offending businesses have had open cases against them for 4 years. Matthews has had an open case since 2012.
Q: Some have said that King County granted business licenses for these businesses? How can it be fair to do that and then pull the carpet out from under them?
A: King County has no “business permits” to grant for these types of businesses, so such claims are false. The only licenses required for these tasting room businesses are from the State of Washington. The state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board (LCCB) grants licenses to businesses for specific addresses and stipulates that exercise of the license is dependent on the business conforming to applicable local zoning and codes.
Q: Aren’t the zoning codes unclear on these activities? Isn’t clearing them up what this ordinance is all about?
A: The existing zoning codes related to wineries have been around for about 18 years and could use some updating. But the codes concerning retail outlets, such as remote tasting rooms, are quite clear that they are not permitted in the Rural residential (RA) and Agricultural (A) zones that we are concerned with here. Keep in mind that the violations at issue here are not “wineries” because wineries are where the wine is actually made. These are retail outlets, described clearly in existing codes as “liquor stores” and “eating and drinking establishments”.
Q: Why did these illegal tasting room operators choose to locate outside the city, where the zoning does not allow such businesses?
A: It is cheaper to operate on the Rural properties primarily because of the zoning that protects our residential neighborhood from incompatible uses. This zoning also makes the land less expensive than properties inside the cities, which are zoned for more intensive uses, like bars and retail stores. Also, the violators don’t pay most of the costs associated with appropriately zoned locations inside the cities. Legal businesses inside the city have lost tenants who were offered cheaper rents by property owners down the street, just outside the city, who have not shouldered the responsibilities and costs as the legal businesses have done.
Q: Some claim that these family enterprises be put out of business if King County follows through with code enforcement on these illegal operations.
A: This claim is a red herring. In every case, these illegal remote tasting rooms are just one of many sales avenues for the actual wineries, which are located in other places - Walla Walla, for Matthews, George for Cave B, Oregon for Feliciano, etc. These products are marketed through grocery stores, liquor stores, club memberships and other outlets. Plus the State LCB allows 4 remote tasting rooms in addition to a winery’s on-site tasting room. The solution for these businesses is, if a Woodinville location is considered crucial to their enterprise, do as over a hundred other wineries have done around Woodinville - find a location that is zoned for and legal for them to carry out their retail sales activities.