After three years of push-and-pull, the controversial Vincent Winery and tasting room on Highway 154 near Los Olivos has been approved by a split Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.
The go-ahead, on a 3-2 vote Wednesday, came with a number of limitations on the project, including the number of people who can attend organized gatherings, as well as limits on food operations and the levels of lighting and noise.
Saying the project was a separate issue from talks that are underway to revise the county’s winery ordinance and determine the scope of events that can be held at wineries, the commission majority voted to move forward with the project.
Second District Commissioner Cecilia Brown and 3rd District Commissioner Marell Brooks voted no, saying they could not make the finding that the project was compatible with residences in the area.
The winery is planned by Anthony Vincent on 24 acres at the northwest corner of Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue in Los Olivos, which is now the site of a home and 14 acres of grapes.
The decision came after several hours of testimony from about 15 people who were fairly evenly split for and against the proposed winery and tasting room.
“Are we trying to drive wineries out of business?” Ballard-area resident Lee Rosenberg asked the commission. “This project has been studied and studied for three years. Mr. Vincent has made a substantial sacrifice by giving up all special events. He is clearly not trying to use his tasting room as a venue for large crowds.”
Rosenberg told the commission he lives adjacent to five wineries and said he’s had no concerns about traffic, lighting, parking or any other impacts.
“I don’t quite understand what the hullabaloo is,” he said.
Others, however, talked about how their neighborhood would change if the winery was approved, including concerns about increases in traffic, potentially drunken drivers, lighting, noise and equestrian safety.
Pat Murphy, who lives east of the site, told the commission that when she first moved to the area 45 years ago, wineries were on large plots of land but that over the years, their proximity to homes has escalated.
“It’s unconscionable to do this,” she said.
Saying he has no problem with wineries, Happy Canyon resident Bob Field said the issue was the location.
“The only discussion is where those two activities (wine-tasting and special events) will take place,” he said. “There is no impact on jobs, or revenue. All these issues about taxes and revenue and jobs, as opposed to wineries, are red herrings.”
Three of the five commissioners, however, while supporting some restrictions, said the project should be allowed to move forward under the existing winery ordinance.
“We have an ordinance that allows tasting rooms with certain conditions,” said 1st District Commissioner and panel chairman Michael Cooney. “It’s not fair to say we no longer want tasting rooms.”
Rather than continuing the item again, Susan Petrovich, an attorney with the Santa Barbara firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck who was representing Vincent, agreed to the changes proposed by the commission.
One of the changes was that organized gatherings would be limited to three times a year and serve between 12 and 75 people.
Another was that amplified music outdoors be eliminated.
The decision stands unless it is appealed to the Board of Supervisors within 10 days.