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Winery Enforcement/Study Op-Ed

  • Written by King County Executive Dow Constantine

On August 26, a large, unpermitted event was held in the Sammamish Valley by a private business.  I heard from many concerned area residents about the event size, traffic, parking and potential impacts to farmland.  The Sammamish Valley is a unique area with a close-knit mix of protected farmland, urban development within the City of Woodinville, and rural communities.  While I’m sure this weekend’s event was held with all good intentions, the owners of the winery and farmland properties did not acquire the required permits to ensure the health of either the community or the environment. Moreover, the farmland property that was used as a parking lot is currently enrolled in King County’s Farmland Preservation Program. King County is beginning the code enforcement process, and we will be talking to the farmland property owner to ensure that they understand the important covenants intended to protect the land for farming in perpetuity.

This incident under-scores the importance of clear rules for rural residential lands and our proximate farmlands. Last year, we started a process to update the regulations for wineries, breweries and distilleries within the unincorporated areas. During the study process we heard from more than 100 residents, businesses, and community groups over many months as we sought to identify shared goals and concerns. These comments shaped a proposal that is thoughtful, balanced and enforceable. I believe that economic prosperity and environmental stewardship can go hand-in-hand. We just received the excellent report from another group I convened around similar issues – the Farms, Fish and Flood Task Force – so I know that with diligence many seeming conflicts can be reconciled. The ordinance I will send to the King County Council in the coming weeks about wineries will seek to protect our farmland and support agriculture in the Sammamish Valley while also nurturing the burgeoning wine and adult beverage industry, and respecting the reasonable expectations of rural residents.

By coming together, we have made great strides in promoting economic activity while protecting rural areas. We recently forged a landmark agreement balancing reduced flood risk to people and property, strengthening salmon populations, and growing a prosperous farming community. We continue to support the county’s farm economy through our Local Food Initiative. We are stewards of 28,000 acres of open space.

With these common sense proposals to be transmitted to Council, we have an opportunity to respect the unique character of our rural lands and communities.

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