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Ada County and alcohol: Commissioners considering end to '75% rule'

Those seeking a permit to sell alcoholic beverages in unincorporated Ada County currently must receive written approval from 75 percent of neighbors.

BOISE, Idaho — As the Gem State continues to grow, bringing in people from all over the country, there is a push for more wineries -- with tasting rooms -- in the Eagle foothills.

According to Ada County code, those seeking a permit to sell alcoholic beverages in unincorporated Ada County must apply for a conditional use permit and receive written approval from 75 percent of residential owners within 1,000 feet of the proposed property.

Ada County Commissioners are now considering an ordinance that would delete the "75% rule." On Thursday, April 14th, they heard from members of the public about the proposal.

“It’s really causing folks who want to start a business in Ada County to question whether or not they want to do that in the county and perhaps go to a county in the surrounding area that doesn't have this additional regulation,” Roger Batt said.

According to Moya Dolsby, Executive Director for the Idaho Wine Commission, Idaho has more than 70 wineries, and there's a lot of interest to establish more. She doesn’t see the need of having to get neighbors' approval to sell wine.

"We want to continue to have agriculture,” Dolsby said. “Wine and grapes go together, and we want grapes to be grown and we want to preserve the foothills because they are beautiful, and having the 75 percent rule, we are the only ones in the state that I know of that have this and it just seems kind of... Do we need to have that extra layer there?"

According to Dolsby, the wine industry has a $210 million impact on the state and provides more than 2,800 jobs to Idahoans.

Some neighbors living in the Eagle foothills say they're concerned that more wineries also would bring some negative effects.

One person asked: "How would you feel if your neighbor started hosting events for people not from your neighborhood and serving them alcohol and how would you feel with strangers looking into your backyard?”

Mark Pasculli and his wife own Rolling Hills Vineyard and live in the Eagle foothills. He operates a tasting room in Garden City, but wants to be able to sell and wine at his estate.

“The question to me always boils down to in 20, 50, 30 years from now, what do people in the foothills want, do they want the foothills completely littered with tract homes, or do they want a vibrant wine and agri-tourism community?" Pasculli said.

While some neighbors want to continue to have a voice on incoming wineries, grape growers like Pasculli say even a few neighbors opposed to incoming wineries could determine the future of the wine industry.

"People aren't sitting on their patio pounding wine,” Pasculli said. “We can develop an area of agri-tourism that's beautiful and have open space, or we can just wait to lose the wrestling match with developers."

Ada County Commissioners will continue the public hearing on May 24 in their hearing room on the first floor of the Ada County Courthouse.

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