Wine Country will lose its rural character if some proposed projects were approved, according to some residents.
Locals gathered to voice their concerns to the Wine Country Planning Committee on June 15 at Wilson Creek Winery.
The committee consists of winery owners, homeowners, equestrian specialists and hot air balloon company owners who represent the wine country community at large.
Developers in recent years showed interest in opening resorts, large wineries, time shares and even a golf course. More than 30 projects are in the approval process, according to the county planning department.
Under the county's current zoning laws, many of these uses are forbidden, but County Supervisor Jeff Stone is spearheading the effort to change the rules to accomodate the new development while maintaining the region's rural atmosphere.
“The growth in wine country can be a magnificent thing if it’s done right,” Wine Country homeowner Kathy Hydrusko said at the meeting.
Residents were afraid these proposed developments would destroy the character of the area.
“We don’t want the charm and character of the area to be compromised and overly built up. We want to preserve the natural winery, ranch-and-horse feel of the area," said Hydrusko's daughter, Grace.
The concerns of local residents is apparent by the growth of the committee. It was formed in 2009 with only six members. Now, it has 22 members, according to county planner Mitra Mehta-Cooper.
The committee's purpose is to form recommendations for the Wine Country plan and bring a recommendation to Stone, said Bill Wilson, owner of Wilson Creek Winery.
Some smaller business owners fear new zoning laws will favor big business by increasing the number of acres required to run bed-and-breakfasts and small wineries.
For example, what used to be a 10-acre minimum to operate a winery is now being increased to 20 acres.
Current businesses don’t want to adhere to the new proposed laws.
“We do have existing businesses on 20 acres or less who don’t want to lose their benefits," said Peggy Evans, the executive director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. "Anytime any of the existing businesses would want to make changes, like adding bathrooms or creating more parking spaces, they would be considered non-conforming. We don’t anyone to lose what they have today."
A grandfather policy was proposed that would let current businesses run under the old zoning laws even after the new plan is approved, Mehta-Cooper said.
"Exisiting wineries would remain at the 10 acre minimum, and if the property is sold, the exisiting zoning laws will transfer with the property," she said.
Opening time shares was discussed as a way to finance businesses.
“Selling time shares would strictly be a financing mechanism to build current and future businesses,” Wilson explained.
Sign twirlers and high pressure sales tactics wouldn’t be welcomed or encouraged, he said.
Homeowners were critical of this idea, saying this would lead to high-pressure sales tactics and possibly even sign twirlers. This would take away from Wine Country's allure, they said.
“It’s great in theory and a great pitch, but so many people have a negative experience when it comes to high pressure time share sales tactics,” homeowner and planning committee member Gregg Hassler said.
Some residents say development in Wine Country is inevitable, but they want to keep it under control.
“We realize that wine country is growing and is going to continue to grow,” said resident Edith Atwood. “We want the growth to be structured and managed to ensure that we all live harmoniously in our lovely rural wine country."
Balloons, horses and golf courses
Hot air balloons were a problem some residents wanted to rein in.
The balloons land in their property, and the trucks their crews drive sometimes cause damage, they said.
"The balloons and the vehicles associated with ballooning come onto my property all the time," resident Rosemary Smith said.
Wine country is also well known for it's horse trails, and the number of tourists riding on the trails is increasing.
Liability is a huge issue for property owners who have trails that cross through thier land, some said.
"We are working on a general plan update as we are aware of liability being a big issue for homeowners," said Marc Brewer, Riverside County's senior parks planner.
The idea of a proposed golf course development -- although possible -- is remote and would be a logistic nightmare based on zoning laws, some residents said. Others protested the amount of water the greens would guzzle.
For more information visit www.socalwinecountryplan.org