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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yakima County Planning Commission concludes discussion of agritourism rule changes

By Joel Donofrio Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – Wineries, breweries and distilleries would still have the option to add a full-service, commercial kitchen under the latest amendment to zoning rules recommended by the Yakima County Planning Commission.

But after revisiting the issue one more time, commission members recommended requiring a public hearing and a final decision from a hearing examiner before that level of food service can be added.

Members of the county planning commission deliberated the details of rule changes for agritourism businesses located in agricultural areas during its Wednesday night, May 11, virtual meeting. It was their third straight month of deliberations on the rule changes following a lengthy Feb. 9 public hearing.

Last month, county planning department officials pointed out a potential legal loophole that would result from commission members’ previous recommendation to allow the full commercial kitchens in “basic” wineries that simply manufacture wine and operate a tasting room.

Currently, those types of wineries, breweries and distilleries may only offer “limited” food service – prepackaged items not cooked on site – county planner Olivia Story said. Food trucks are allowed during special events, she added.

The next level of agritourism business allows retail sales and limited-size events such as smaller weddings or concerts in a venue no larger than 1,500 square feet, county planning official Tommy Carroll said. As with the first level of agritourism operations (wineries, breweries and distilleries), only limited food service and visiting food trucks are allowed.

County officials are combining all other agritourism operations into a third category, destinations and resorts, that allows larger events in a larger venue, as many as 12 lodging units for overnight accommodations, retail sales and full-service restaurants.

After Carroll reviewed the three types of agritourism operations, and the various levels of approval needed for each, he recommended that only the third category of agritourism operations – requiring the strictest standards for approval – be allowed to add restaurants.

“We revisited these rules due to changes in the wine industry, which is offering more events and more amenities than they were 20 or 25 years ago,” Carroll said. “The hearing examiner is the appropriate level to make the final decision” on resort agritourism operations with full-service restaurants.

Planning Commission Chairman Doug Mayo agreed with Carroll, and amended his motion from the April meeting to require an ATO Level 3 review before a hearing examiner. The amendment was approved 4-0 by Mayo and commission members Jerry Craig, Holly Castle and Michael Shuttleworth. Two other commissioners, Kyle Curtis and Robert Tree, were absent.

The commission also addressed the setup and removal of temporary structures for outdoor festivals in areas zoned for agriculture, such as Chinook Fest in the Naches area. These rules apply to any event that attracts more than 500 people for five hours or more.

Story, the county planning official, looked at neighboring counties to see what their rules were regarding setup of temporary structures, when they were inspected for safety requirements, and how long event organizers had to tear them down.

Eventually, commission members voted 4-0 to recommend that temporary structures may not be started more than 14 days before the event and must be removed within 10 days of the event’s conclusion. They did not set a timeframe for inspections.

Finally, the commission members clarified a few definitions for the proposed agritourism rules. For example, a brewery that produces 60,000 or more barrels of beer during a year will be considered a domestic brewery. Those are subject to stricter regulations and approval standards than a microbrewery, which produces less than 60,000 barrels a year and can also include hop fields, grain fields and a tasting room.

Story said a final set of definitions and amendments to the county’s proposed agritourism rule changes will be considered for a final recommendation at the planning commission’s June 8 meeting. That recommendation will go to the Yakima County Board of Commissioners, which can approve or reject the new rules.