What is really going on with the adult beverage ordinance?

  • Written by Madeline Coats


Seven local retail wineries/tasting room

are violating current code requirements.


The King County Council is currently proposing an adult beverage ordinance that would affect all wineries, breweries and distilleries in the unincorporated area.

The proposed ordinance is a product of confusion and misunderstandings about the current code requirements. Friends of the Sammamish Valley aim to spread awareness about the impacts of the ordinance in order to preserve agricultural lands and protect natural systems.

“The problem is not the current code, but the way it is enforced,” said Serena Glover, executive director for Friends of the Sammamish Valley. 

She said the wine tourism industry is booming. There are over 130 wine businesses in the Woodinville area and more than 40 in the Valley. Only seven locations are operating as drinking establishments and violating the current code. Glover said all violators can be handled with the existing code. 

“This has been going on for half a century now. This is a simple issue on the surface,” said Michael Tanksley, president of the Hollywood Hill Association. 

The current code states that all sales are limited to products produced on-site. Glover said all seven violators transport from production facilities in Eastern Wash. 

In rural areas, home occupation code requires sales of on-site services to patrons be arranged by appointment only. The current code also requires closing hours of 5 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends. 

Neighbors have complained that on-site drinking has grown to a scale that disrupts nearby houses. There are 12 beverage industry businesses in King County with active complaints.

The existing code does not allow retail drinking establishments in rural and agricultural areas. The proposed ordinance allows the commercial infrastructure needed to keep these drinking areas in business. 

The proposed ordinance attempts to redefine the process of manufacturing by requiring that wineries, breweries, and distilleries conduct at least two stages of production on-site. The current code requires all stages of beverage production to be completed on the property. 

While remote tasting rooms are currently not allowed in rural areas, the ordinance would expand alcohol sales onto rural and agricultural lands by permitting 500 square feet of outdoor space for retail drinking areas. 

The new ordinance would also grant wineries, breweries, and distilleries on over eight acres to have an unlimited number of events with no mitigation process. To date, these businesses are limited to two events per month and they must be approved for a Temporary Use Permit.

“The proposed ordinance is completely inconsistent with decades of carefully upheld land-use policy,” said a memo from Friends of Sammamish Valley.

Glover said the proposed ordinance rewards violators. Some have suggested broader commercial development for Sammamish Valley farmland, she said.

According to current King County zoning requirements, the minimum lot size is 4.5 acres for facilities up to 3,500 square feet in rural areas. Additionally, the primary use of sites in agricultural areas must be farming and raising livestock. 

Glover said the cost to purchase acres of land in agricultural areas has increased dramatically. Acres are being sold for millions of dollars to keep up with the booming wine industry. Speculators are paying 20 times the normal price to build commercial businesses, she said.

County zoning also states that more than 60% of products processed in rural and agricultural sites should be grown in Puget Sound counties. All wineries, breweries, and distilleries are also required to comply with all health, water, and wastewater disposal regulations.

“Council must uphold the Urban Growth Boundary or farmland and rural area buffers will be lost forever,” the memo said. 

At a meeting of the King County Committee of the Whole, Councilmember Claudia Balducci said anything not right in the proposed ordinance could be fixed with another one later. 

“Once the land is paved over, it is paved over forever. There is no going back,” the memo said in response to the meeting Oct. 7.

If adopted, the proposed ordinance would allow businesses selling alcoholic beverages to expand into rural and agricultural areas, Glover said. It will create needs for sewer, water and stormwater facilities in these areas, in addition to expanded streets and sidewalks. 

Glover said repercussions of the adult beverage ordinance will violate the State Environmental Policy Act, the Growth Management Act, Countywide Planning Policies and the King County Comprehensive Plan.


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