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Placer supes OK rural Lincoln-area winery “community center” growth plans

5-0 vote seals use-permit approval supported by planning staff, Planning Commission
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Growth plans by a rural Lincoln winery survived a challenge Tuesday in front of the Placer County Board of Supervisors by opponents and are now set to move forward.

Debate Tuesday centered on the merits of what was characterized by some as a ground-breaking proposal versus concerns by others that it was opening rural areas to an uncontrolled proliferation of similar winery event centers.

The proposal by the Wise Villa Winery Community Center, which expands the amount of people it can play host to and the number of days it can hold events, was approved on a 5-0 vote. Supervisors supported an earlier OK by the Planning Commission and a staff recommendation to deny appeals.

Wise Villa owner Grover Lee’s permit allows the Wise Road winery, located 3 miles northeast of Lincoln and 8 miles west of Auburn, to play host to groups of up to 50 people four times a week for agricultural, vineyard or wine-food-pairing educational events.

The permit also allows the winery to host larger events, with up to 100 people, twice a month. The permit is for two years.

Lee told supervisors that he’s making wine from 30,000 grapevines on the property and wants to expand into educating visitors and locals alike on the healthfulness of food and wine, as shown in Mediterranean diet studies.

Four groups – the Sierra Club, Save Placer Farmlands, the Public Interest Coalition and the Neighborhood Rescue Group – appealed the December planning panel decision. Citing narrow roads, noise concerns and drunken-driver fears, they questioned granting expanded hours and patron numbers for events at an agricultural business under the county’s “community center” designation.

At a minimum, opponents asked that a decision be postponed so the county could establish clearer rules for “community centers” that could include wineries.

“Very disappointed,” the Sierra Club’s Marilyn Jasper said after the vote. “I think that the evidence that supervisors had was compelling. I think they had every opportunity and justification to turn this down or at least postpone it until the codes were amended.”

After the meeting, Lee said he’d begin holding events as soon as he gets county health permits signed off on.    

“Obviously I’m very, very happy,” Lee said. “It’s been a very long process. I think the most important thing is that all the requirements of the county has asked me to do I’ve tried my very best to comply with in every possible detail.”

Supervisor Jim Holmes said all indications were that the Wise Villa would be a good neighbor and that residents who have concerns should report them to code enforcement.

“I think he’s done everything he can to mitigate the concerns of the neighbors and he’ll continue to deal with issues that come forward,” Holmes said.

Miguel Ucovich of Loomis told supervisors that the “community center” designation was initially put in place to allow grange halls in Placer County and using the designation for a winery did not fit the definition.

“Wineries are definitely not community centers,” Ucovich said.  

Rural Newcastle resident Mike Giles, an appellant with the Neighborhood Rescue Group, said Wise Villa would be a huge project the county doesn’t have the ability to regulate or control. He said county code enforcement personnel are unavailable nights and weekends.

Giles called for postponement of a decision and revision of community center rules.

“Honor the requests and let's get it right the first time,” Giles said.

Supervisor Kirk Uhler said that concerns about a future proliferation of other “event center” wineries throughout the foothills of Placer County were unwarranted because a use permit would demand consideration by the Planning Commission. Each application would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he said.

“I’m thankful to entertain opportunities like this,” Uhler said. “This is well-planned, well-thought-out and gives us a chance to demonstrate our willingness to embrace the local agricultural community.”