Updated at 9:48 p.m. Dec. 3; originally posted at 6:50 p.m. Dec. 3
In what was described as a "historic" vote, the Board of Supervisors today approved the establishment of zoning standards expected to define the shape and character of a roughly 19,000-acre swath of Riverside County -- officially known as the Temecula Valley Wine Country -- for decades to come.
"This is a wonderful jewel within our county that we have to preserve and protect," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses the area and who was a driving force behind the concept.
"This is a blueprint for a vision I've had now for many, many years. There's no perfect plan. But we've put forth our best effort for a successful wine country ... and a document that will survive the test of time."
The board voted 4-0 -- with Supervisor Marion Ashley departing the meeting early to attend to other business -- to amend the southwest county region general plan by incorporating new zoning designations and to tentatively certify an environmental impact report. The action followed 3 1/2 hours of public testimony during which around 40 speakers addressed the board.
There was no outright opposition to the Temecula Valley Wine Country Plan in its entirety, though a number of speakers objected to a trails map that proposed a network of bicycle, equestrian and hiking paths that traversed private land in some places.
"We're talking about property rights. This is not just about someone riding a horse on a nice sunny day," said a Citrus Heights resident who identified herself as Laura. "We've worked hard to own land around Temecula. This trail system would affect each of the parcels we possess."
Said Richard Bowman: "I don't object to neighbors hiking and biking near my house, but I do mind strangers coming by who are out for a day of entertainment. It would create a nuisance to our privacy and lifestyle. I don't want businesses making money at the expense of our privacy."
Though Stone underscored the fact that the trails component was only conceptual and would require additional hearings, he ultimately shared residents' concerns about private property interests being compromised and took the proposal out of the wine country plan.
"This is a historic day in Riverside County," Stone said. "I've heard my constituents loud and clear. I understand the issues of concern."
Several speakers told the board they were unhappy with restrictions on the dimensions of their buildings.
Jim Carter, owner of South Coast Winery & Resort on Rancho California Road, said a zoning limit under the wine country plan would prevent him from adding a third floor to his main building.
Stone added an exemption to the plan that would permit property owners in zones reserved for commercial development to have higher edifices -- as long as they have a "terrace design" that fits with the landscape.
"I don't want anything like a Holiday Inn Express in wine country," Stone said. "There shouldn't be grandiose buildings. People should be focused on the beautiful vines."
During its Sept. 24 meeting, the board suspended action on the wine country makeover after hearing from residents concerned about everything from the definition of a vineyard to the amplification systems that might be allowed on wine club properties.
The supervisors sent the plan back to the Riverside County Planning Commission for further vetting and refinement, after which the county's Park District Advisory Committee weighed in, culminating in a few modest revisions.
According to the county Transportation and Land Management Agency, among the more substantive changes was a request by nine property owners to remove 13 parcels totaling 192 acres from the project area, while a dozen property owners in possession of 262 acres asked to be included.
Under the wine country plan, conceived in 2008, 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, will be broken into four districts: equestrian, existing, residential and winery.
The area is home to 42 vintners. County officials foresee as many as 170 being established in the coming decades.
Kimberly Adams with the Temecula Valley Convention & Visitors' Bureau described the wine country as the "largest grape-growing Appalachia in Southern California."
"Last year, we generated $600 million in economic activity," Adams said. "We support over 5,000 jobs. It's a thriving industry."
Supervisor John Tavaglione said implementing the wine country plan was "critical to the success" of the county overall.
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 a 700-page environmental impact report prepared for the board.
The EIR noted multiple "significant" consequences arising from the wine country plan, including a reduction of farmland, increased noise, lower air quality from grading, excavation and other construction activity, as well as higher traffic volume and more roadway congestion.
Additional EIRs will have to be drafted as commercial and residential projects permitted within the wine country are brought before the board.
According to Stone, modifications can be made to the plan in eight-year cycles, beginning in 2016.--City News Service