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With over three decades of experience in project management and regulatory processing, Dan Lloyd, President and CEO of Landsite Inc., is a widely recognized expert in the design and planning of complex development proposals for commercial and residential projects. He specializes in building assessments, entitlement procurement and permit processing for wineries and vineyards.

How do I determine if a raw piece of land is suitable for a winery and/or vineyard?

It’s always easy to buy a piece of land; it’s much harder to secure an entitlement to build a winery and/or vineyard. That’s because not all properties are created equal; some sites are very easily developed and others are practically undevelopable because of regulatory constraints, traffic impact and accessibility to water.

So some of the things you would want to be looking at would be the adequacy of your access to roads and resources, the slope of the land and soil quality, and the traffic impact your operation could add to local roads.

Where do I start in the assessment process?

First, you’ll need to identify what kinds of studies/reports you’ll likely have to produce, what sort of restrictions you might be looking at, and what you might be able to reasonably accomplish.

One of those reports is a land use permit assessment, which evaluates the viability of securing an entitlement to develop and build the winery/vineyard.

Another is a constraints analysis which determines any regulatory obstacles you may be facing including: biological constraints (soil), resource constraints (water), endangered species constraints, etc. The idea that you want to build something somewhere is great, but the ability to be able to secure an entitlement to do your work is really where the understanding of local ordinances and state regulations come to bear.

What are the required permits for building a winery and/or vineyard?

The county has outlined the process for approving a site for a winery and or vineyard. Basically, there are two levels of processing for an application based on the size and impact of your operation:

If the property is less than three acres and you’re not going to be holding a lot of special events, you can apply for a Minor Use Permit (MUP). A MUP is generally considered a lower level of permitting and is reviewed by county staff at a hearing, which is open to the public. The process of obtaining a MUP typically takes about six months.

Holding large events, often, that attract crowds, or building out a larger facility, such as a bed and breakfast will elevate your request to a Conditional Use Permit. This is because you’re doing something that potentially has a greater impact on either the neighborhood or the landform. This higher level of processing requires you to provide studies and information to the regulatory agencies for review. The permit request goes to the planning commission and a public hearing is held. The process of obtaining a Conditional Use Permit can take as long as two years, depending on how complex it is.

Are there additional factors to take into consideration?

Yes, your neighbors are a very important component of your success and/or failure. There are some people that will scream holy hell over the fact that a winery is going in down the street. Understandably, there’s a fear that you’ll be attracting large amounts of potentially inebriated traffic. Or it could be that your project requires tearing down oak woodland destroying plants and wildlife.

Part of the requirement of the application (even a MUP) is that you notify neighbors within 1,000 ft. of your proposed facility, in writing. A copy of the letter and the list of people that you sent it to must be submitted to the agency (in this case the county). This provides a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and talk to them about what’s going on, answer their questions and see if there’s a way to ameliorate their concerns.