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Olalla Valley Winery did not violate permit, Kitsap County examiner rules

Posted on March 25th, 2022 By:

Kitsap County Hearing Examiner Andrew Reeves ruled earlier this month that the Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery did not violate its conditional use permit, as alleged by the county’s Department of Community Development.

The ruling came following a 10-hour hearing that took place last December and a three-month delay in arriving at a decision. Reeves issued his 45-page decision on March 18.

Pouring wine at Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery. Photo courtesy of Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery

The county contended that the winery had violated its permit by exceeding the allowed number of outdoor events per month; exceeding the maximum number of attendees at each event; allowing parking in unapproved areas; allowing RVs to stay overnight; and operating as a wine bar instead of as a wine tasting room.

The hearing examiner didn’t address complaints from two neighbors regarding excessive noise at events, as that wasn’t included in the county’s revocation request. He also declined to rule on the allegation that the winery is operating a wine bar rather than a tasting room.

The winery had argued that its original conditional use permit, issued in 2017, allowed it to have more than four outdoor events per month in the summer. The winery argued that the permit didn’t identify private gatherings — such as weddings, birthday parties and family reunions — as “events.”

Reeves’ ruling specified that “the ‘four outdoor event limitation’ applies to all outdoor events — whether involving a wedding or other outdoor event such a concert. More succinctly OVVW may host (or allow) no more than four outdoor events a month on its property unless additional permissions be obtained.”

Reeves also offered suggestions on other issues, including that on-site parking must comply with the winery’s approved site plan and that the winery “should seek a code interpretation prior to allowing any overnight RV parking on the property.”

Winery co-owner Mary Ellen Houston said the winery is “still trying to assess new restrictions to four events-per-month.” She added that she and her husband, Stuart Chisholm, believe that their original conditional use permit clearly stated that weddings weren’t “public” events and didn’t count toward the four allowed events.

“Our consultant agrees with us on that, so he is asking for additional clarification on the number of events we can have,” Houston said.

“We’re very happy about the decision overall because it was a very serious situation,” Chisholm said. “But everyone has a separate opinion of what an “event” is. We just want clarity, so our attorney is talking to the county’s attorney.”

Houston added that while two neighbors have objected to the situation at the winery, “there are so many other neighbors and families in our community who love us and think we’re a real asset and an amenity to the community.”

Neither of the two neighbors responded to requests for comment. The county has yet to decide what comes next. According to a DCD staffer, the department will be meeting with county commissioners over the next few weeks to determine their next steps.