Our View: County’s ‘community center’ approval grows concern

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In this month of so-called “madness,” the quintessential scene of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat played out – only this time it wasn’t on a basketball court, but in the chambers of the Placer County Board of Supervisors.
The winners in this instance were private business owners, and the losers were environmental groups and residents.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Wise Villa Winery’s plans to host events, large and small, through its minor-use permit proposal for a venue that currently falls under the county’s “community center” designation. This decision could have wide-ranging effects for those in the agriculture business and for those awaiting rulings on their own “community center” proposals.
Property owners should have the right to do what they want to their land, if they go through the proper channels and their property meets specific zoning rules — which Grover Lee, owner of Wise Villa Winery, did. But the question here is, did the county act too hastily in granting this proposal – we say yes.
A more detailed look into the “community center” designation and what types of facilities should, and should not, be under this status needs to be done even in light of the ruling.  
Opponents of these so-called centers argue that more specific regulations should be laid out when it comes to granting these proposals for “community centers.” There’s quite a bit of ambiguity here with the current designation, which is why Wise Villa Winery has, and most likely Rock Hill Winery will, have its proposal approved now. Gold Hill Gardens is appealing the Planning Commission’s Dec. 20 ruling denying its use-permit for a “community center” Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors.  
When this designation was first crafted it was so that farmers in the community could gather for local events and meetings. Grange halls still dot this region, and they’re available to those in the community. Opponents of the Wise Villa Winery center call these facilities “private event centers.”
While we may not know what was in the heads of those who originally created the designation, you could get away with the assumption that they weren’t envisioning wineries holding weddings, concerts or large tasting events.
This is not to say that property owners who have invested countless hours and considerable fortunes into making beautiful facilities should be banned from reaping the benefits of their hard work. We support a property owner’s rights to do with his or her land as they please – if it falls within the proper zoning and ordinances.
The Board of Supervisors, while denying the appeal and approving the Planning Commission’s original ruling, may have helped these local ag businesses in the short term, we see possible problems down the line. This permit was only approved for two years time due to the fact that “community center” winery events on agriculturally zoned land in Placer County is still an issue that is not resolved.
This seems like a backward approach to the situation.
First we’ll grant you your request, but maybe in two years time we’ll realize that your facility doesn’t fall within the guidelines of a “community center.” What then? Will there be a new set of standards that businesses such as Wise Villa Winery will have to fall under? Will they be grandfathered in? What will be the costs?
A worst-case scenario is the facility doesn’t fall under any permit guidelines that are agreed upon. Then what? Is this business owner out of luck — and his or her investment? There are too many unknown variables that make us uneasy, and we see the potential for more problems down the road.
Or … does the county just rubber stamp a renewal in two years without any real examination of the current designation and keeps the status quo?
What is needed is separate designation for facilities such as these that Wise Villa Winery has been approved for, and tighten the requirements for a true community center. Then institute a more stringent case-by-case review process for these facilities. We’ve been out to Rock Hill Winery in the Loomis area and see the benefits of the property and an approval in the offing. We’ve also been to the area where Gold Hill Gardens is proposed and can see more concerns over a facility of its proposed size and understand the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the permit.
There isn’t a one size fits all solution to this hotly-debated issue. But we do know that there is a better way to not only allow these property owners the ability to make a living and get the most out of their land, while at the same time take into account the people who chose to live in these areas because of the way of life.
We hope the county truly takes an in-depth look at the community center designation and comes up with a plan that makes business owners and residents good neighbors and not enemies.