With too many unresolved issues remaining, Riverside County supervisors today postponed action on the expansive Temecula Valley Wine Country Plan, seeking instead to have elements of the proposal re-examined by the county Planning Commission before another board hearing on the matter, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3.
Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose Third District encompasses the 19,000-acre swath at the heart of the plan, cited multiple concerns, including a basic definition of what qualifies as a vineyard, limits on the amount of outdoor activity that should be permitted at wine clubs and the configuration of equestrian trails.
"This plan has been a dream, a vision of mine for many, many years," Stone said. "This is a large effort by a lot of people. But we can't approve this today. There are too many issues that require further analysis."
After more than 3 1/2 hours of testimony by nearly 50 speakers, the Board of Supervisors voted to send the wine country plan back to the five-member Planning Commission for another look, after which the board will hold a second public hearing on the proposal and the 700-page environmental impact report attached to it.
While no speakers expressed outright opposition to the plan, a number were dissatisfied with zoning designations and what consequences there might be for existing residences and ranches.
Under the Temecula Valley Wine Country Plan, an unincorporated area with boundaries three miles north of the San Diego County line, just east of Temecula, south of Lake Skinner and Northwest of Vail Lake would be broken into four districts: equestrian, existing, residential and winery.
Speakers questioned the amount of commercial growth that would be permitted in each distract and how the ensuing activity would affect their lives.
A woman identified as "Ms. Coke" told the board that her hillside home is already plagued by dozens of horse riders weekly who ignore no-trespassing signs and wander through her property, kicking up clouds of dust that the disabled woman said makes breathing difficult.
"There's been a loss of enjoyment, health and privacy," Coke told the board, fuming at the prospect of more local development that could degrade her quality of life.
Gil Pankonin, president of the Rancho California Horsemen's Association, told the board his organization was displeased about a lack of riding trails incorporated into the final wine country map.
"We need safe trails out to Vail Lake, Lake Skinner and Diamond Valley," he said. "Staff needs to get with land owners to make sure these trails exist."
A resident of the Morgan Hill community complained about the level of noise already coming from outdoor event venues more than a mile from his house. He urged the board to implement time, place and manner restrictions as part of the wine country plan to ensure wineries that have large-scale tastings, weddings and other celebrations are prohibited from using amplification systems.
Another Morgan Hill resident, an attorney, said the wine country designations suffered from vagueness and cried out for clarification. He pointed specifically to how the county defines a winery.
Several vintners took issue with a "carve-out" provision for the Calvary Chapel on Rancho California Road. The church was granted an exemption from the winery zoning regulations because of its religious function. However, Ray Falkner, owner of Falkner Winery on Calle Contento, complained that Calvary was the beneficiary of illegal "spot zoning."
Representatives of the church, including Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar, countered that the house of worship was a longstanding "good neighbor" and should not be subject to the same restrictions that apply to wineries.
Stone recommended the Planning Commission revisit the issue. With unanimous support from his board colleagues, the supervisor also directed county staff to firm up what qualifies as a vineyard.
"How many gallons should be harvested per acre? Should there be a minimum of 500 olive trees?" he wondered.
Stone wanted noise regulations ironed out but acknowledged that not all "special occasion facilities" would be the same. He also sought a "comprehensive review" of the proposed trail linkages to ensure property owners' rights would not be infringed.
Supervisor John Benoit was optimistic that any lingering issues would be resolved by December.
"This is an ambitious project with huge potential upside," Benoit said. "Most of the concerns, I think, can be addressed."
The Temecula Valley Wine Country Plan has been in development since 2008. The first draft was approved by the county's Planning Commission last December.
"The purpose of the project is to provide a blueprint for growth to ensure that future development activities will enhance, not impede, the quality of life for existing and future residents, while providing opportunities for continued development and expansion of winery and equestrian operations within this part of the county," according to a county Transportation & Land Management Agency statement submitted as part of the presentation.
The area is currently home to 42 vintners. County officials foresee as many as 170 being established in the coming decades.
Preparing the area for expansion will require new infrastructure, more government services and accommodations for existing residents and businesses -- all of which pose challenges, though most of them can be mitigated, according to the environmental impact report prepared for the board.
—City News Service