A Special Privilege

Jason Miner
Thu, 07/28/2016 - 12:00pm

Oregon Wineries and Commercial Activity

Over three legislative sessions and in innumerable conversations in Salem from 2011 to 2013, 1000 Friends championed protecting farmland for farming alongside vintners and winemakers. Wine industry leaders worked to define what are and are not acceptable practices on wine lands. People often say the devil is in the details, and some of the most detailed work on this issue has been defining when commercial activities on farmland go too far. Do those activities focus on building a restaurant on rural grounds instead of growing food or making wine? Commercial activities on farms, such as restaurants and gift shops, can strain rural roads and services and conflict with actual farming - not to mention the fact that they prove a challenge for permitted restaurants and businesses on main-street.

This month Jackson County cited a winery outside Ashland’s UGB for operating a limited service restaurant without the necessary conditional use permit (CUP). CUPs are important – they are the way communities can balance and monitor the impacts of commercial activities, traffic, and/or adequate sanitation. Other wineries in Jackson County and around the state have gotten permits to serve food in creative ways. 

In 2011 and 2013, 1000 Friends warned the Legislature of exactly these kinds of conflicts. Towns and main streets are where we have invested in infrastructure, they are the places successful restaurants and businesses have prospered. Rural restaurants can compete with local businesses while not paying the taxes and fees that support downtown infrastructure, lending an unfair advantage to businesses springing up on farmland.

We support the wine industry, and the farmers and winemakers who make the industry a point of pride for Oregon. We believe that in this case, Jackson County is applying rules fairly. As Crissy Bennett, the owner of Ashland’s Peerless restaurant, eloquently states, “it's a very special privilege to conduct commercial activity on farmland. They have to respect the privilege given to them and not abuse it." These sentiments are echoed by Valley View Winery president, Mark Wisnovsky, “We need to strike a balance between being viable as a farm-based business and not abusing the right.”

Oregon wine is now a statewide phenomenon, with distinct varietals in places from the Snake River to the Applegate River. Oregon wines don’t get their ‘street credibility,’ as the article quotes consultant and winemaker Liz Wan, from the grandeur of the restaurants on wineries; they have earned their credibility for the quality of craftsmanship, winning the most prestigious international awards and a near-sacred place in the hearts and palates of Oregonians.

One of Oregon land use’s quintessential achievements has been the protection of wine country. Many of the slopes of the Willamette Valley hillsides in Dundee and the Eola Hills were slated for sprawl, until the passage of SB100 saved land that had high-quality soils for farming. The explosive growth of the wine industry has produced land use conflicts, too. This one was foreseeable, and in resolving it we should remember that Oregon farming and farmland is invaluable and irreplaceable.

Rural communities now have a new tool to explore economic development ideas from Smart Growth America. Check out their new Rural Development Program.

Photo Credit: Ian Sane Photography, Creative Commons