Adult Beverage Ordinance
Updated Through January 7, 2022
On January 3, 2022, the WA State Growth Management Hearing Board (GMHB) unanimously reaffirmed its invalidation of the Adult Beverage Ordinance (ABO) in its Final Decision and Order. The GMHB concluded the ABO failed to comply with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the State Growth Management Act (GMA). The GMHB also made a finding of invalidity, meaning that development applications for adult beverage uses, such as tasting rooms or event centers, cannot be approved until a new ordinance that complies with state law is adopted by the county. Key findings by the GMHB:
- The Board noted that SEPA is a “environmental full disclosure law” and concluded, once again, that the County failed to conduct a proper analysis, which meant County decision makers did not have the adequate environmental impact information to make a fully informed decision prior to their vote to adopt the Ordinance.
- The Ordinance failed the GMA mandate to protect farmland in numerous ways including allowing uses not linked to agriculture in the County, lack of protection of prime agricultural lands, and no protection against adverse impacts from nearby adult beverage businesses uses including events, according to the Board.
- The Board agreed with FoSV and Futurewise that the Ordinance amounts to a de facto override of the Urban Growth Boundary established under the GMA, improperly allowing businesses which serve urban populations to set up shop in the Rural Area where there is no urban-level infrastructure” (e.g. sewer hookup, parking, sidewalks).
- The Board found that the Demonstration Project A Overlay, which had the effect of allowing formerly illegal uses south of Woodinville in the rural area, violated the GMA.
- The County’s repeated argument that the Ordinance is a mere tightening of pre-existing zoning designations was deemed as flawed. The Board highlighted several areas where impacts of expansion were not considered, including repeal of the prior code provision that limits sales to products produced onsite, the reduction of lot size from 4.5 acres to 2.5 acres, and provisions that allow for the expansion on the number of events and exemptions from zoning limitations on events.
- The Board concluded that development allowed by the ordinance is inconsistent with the character of the rural and agricultural areas of the county including open spaces, can pollute groundwater, reduce instream flows, and adversely impact fish and wildlife.
For the details please see:
On May 26, 2020, the King County Adult Beverage Ordinance was unanimously rejected by the GMHB, in response to a motion filed by Friends of Sammamish Valley and other petitioners. The GMHB’s Order cites a several grounds for invalidation under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA) and faults the County for ignoring the ordinance’s potential environmental harm and impacts on infrastructure.
Strong opposition had come from farmers, rural and urban residents, environmental and community groups (including the GMVUAC), and local businesses. Opposition to the ordinance centered on its opening up of protected farmland and rural residential areas to adult beverage businesses such as remote tasting rooms, bars, and event centers, where the primary activity is retail sales. The GMHB’s Order upheld these concerns. The GMHB recognized that while sponsors claimed the ordinance would “tighten up” regulations around winery, brewery and distillery businesses, it would actually have the opposite effect—legitimizing a group of existing adult beverage zoning violators and opening up areas set aside for farming and rural residential uses across unincorporated King County to more of the same activities.
The GMHB stated that the Ordinance: “declines to even acknowledge areas of potential impact and utterly fails to identify necessary areas of environmental review.” The decision is also noteworthy because invalidation of city or county legislation is not common, but instead reserved for the most egregious cases, and because the decision was rendered early in the appeal process.
The King County Council adopted the Adult Beverage Ordinance that would affect all wineries, breweries, distilleries, and cideries in the unincorporated area. Visit the KC Council legislative page for File No. 2018-0241. The proposed Ordinance went through many iterations within the KC Council and its various committees, as described below.
On November 18, 2019, the GMVUAC held a Special Meeting to discuss and approve a Final Comment Letter in collaboration with other Rural Area Unoncorporated Area Councils (UACs) and Unincorporated Area Associations (UAAs)–Enumclaw Plateau Community Association (EPCA); Green Valley/Lake Holm Association (GV/LHA); and Upper Bear Creek UAC (UBCUAC)–to the KC Council regarding its revised WBD Ordinance. On November 21, 2019, the comment letter was submitted to the KC Council as Written Testimony for its public hearing on December 4, 2019. The joint Written Testimony called for rejection of the proposed Ordinance.
On June 6, 2019, the GMVUAC, along with the EPCA, GV/LHA, and UBCUAC submitted a joint Written Testimony for the King County Council’s June 12, 2019, Public Hearing on same. The joint Written Testimony outlined the many dangers to the Rural Area presented by the proposed Ordinance.
The GMVUAC concluded the proposed Ordinance does not solve the problems it was intended to address. As such, it will not protect RA and APD lands from excessively commercialized retail and industrial uses. This will in turn result in increased traffic on insufficient, poorly maintained roads; creation of virtual parking lots on rural and agricultural lands; safety issues for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists; damaging water runoff; and unwarranted lighting and noise pollution.
The GMVUAC recommended the King County Council thoroughly review the proposed Ordinance and reject it. Any proposed WBD regulatory program must be reworked by the KC Executive with an eye to clarifying the current KC Code, providing clear and unambiguous protection to WBDs as home occupations and/or home industries in the rural area, and giving due consideration to small rural WBDs with an effective, fair, and consistent Code Enforcement program. Further, we recommend the Executive include a full SEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any proposed substitute Ordinance, if such is in fact the decision made, and include small brewery operations in such study. However, making the necessary minimal changes to existing KC Code we recommend should not require any detailed economic and environmental analysis, and should be accomplished and implemented rather quickly.
EARLY HISTORY (largely from the King County Council Staff Report: Staff Report)
Wineries and breweries have been uses listed in the permitted use tables since at least the 1993 Zoning Code. The development conditions that apply today were largely adopted in 2003. Distilleries were first recognized as a land use in 2013. Wineries, breweries and distilleries are considered the same land use category under the code with the same development conditions.
In 2010, the City of Woodinville submitted a request to expand the Urban Growth Boundary and establish new commercial zoning. As part of the 2012 Comprehensive Plan major update, the County Council adopted a Work Plan item to work with the City of Woodinville on joint recommendations for wine and agriculture industries. Following the 2012 Comprehensive Plan work program the Executive requested, and the Council approved, an appropriation of $75,000 to conduct a “[s]tudy to develop recommendations to improve the interface of the burgeoning wine industry with the surrounding communities. The funding will be used to secure consultant assistance to support the outreach, research and recommendation process. The study will focus on economic development, transportation, land use and agriculture in the Sammamish Valley area, and may also make recommendations for other parts of unincorporated King County as appropriate.”
Around the same time, neighbors of wineries within the Sammamish Valley filed a number of code enforcement complaints for operating in violation of the zoning code and construction without required permits. The Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER), knowing the Executive would be beginning a study to look at policy recommendations, signed Settlement Agreements with 20 of the wineries acknowledging that: (1) aspects of the winery uses were not permitted, (2) the business owner would not increase non-compliance, and (3) any life-safety issues would be corrected. In return, DPER would not move forward with any code enforcement process while the Executive’s study was being complete and before any legislative changes were considered and adopted by the Council.
The Executive formed a stakeholder group of Sammamish Valley wineries, agricultural interests, and the Cities of Woodinville and Redmond to review goals and priorities, wine industry needs, issues with the existing development regulations, transportation issues, and potential policy changes and infrastructure improvements. In September 2016 the stakeholder group provided a series of policy recommendations in its final report (Sammamish Wine & Beverage Study).
Since that time, the Executive has been working through a series of proposed policy changes, as well as on improvements within the Sammamish Valley (shuttle van, trail connections, signage). In April 2018, after reviewing feedback on the June 2017 public review draft of the proposed regulation, the Executive transmitted a final report (Executive Recommended Report) and Proposed Ordinance 2018-0241 to the Council (Initial Proposed WBD Ordinance). The Proposed Ordinance would add a new business license requirement for these uses; create a new “remote tasting room” use; add new development conditions and permit requirements for wineries, breweries and distilleries; establish two demonstration projects, one for remote tasting rooms and one for special events related temporary use permits; and increase citation penalties for violations by these types of businesses.
In June through November 2018 the Council’s Planning, Rural Services and Environment (PRE) Committee reviewed the Executive’s proposal and developed proposed changes. In March 2019 The Council’s Local Services, Rural roads and Bridges Committee (a successor to the PRE Committee) voted to pass the proposed Ordinance to the full Council, which has scheduled a June 12, 2019, Public Hearing.
The GMVUAC has followed this important topic for several years. In June 2017 the GMVUAC submitted to the Executive a set of detailed comments on the King County Sammamish Valley Wine & Beverage Study (2017). This primarily discussed the GMVUAC’s major concerns over the proposed Demonstration Projects, which it categorically opposes. In November 2018 the GMVUAC (along with the Hollywood Hill Association and the Upper Bear Creek UAC) submitted to the Council’s PRE Committee a set of detailed comments on the proposed Adult Beverage Ordinance—RA UAC/UAA Cover Letter (2018) and Comments (2018), which supported the Friends of Sammamish Valley’s (FOSV’s) proposed Amendment to the proposed Ordinance Striker, which dealt with a host of issues: Need for better Definitions; Use of Demonstration Projects; Overlays; Penalties; and Land-Use Tables.
In May 2019 the GMVUAC created a Task Force to review the proposed Ordinance and to draft a set of comments for the June 2019 Public Hearing before the Council. The Task Force is comprised of members from each of the GMVUAC’s four major subject-matter committees: Economic Development, Environment, Growth Management, and Transportation. The two Economic Development Committee members are owners of local breweries and bring a wealth of small business acumen to the Task Force’s deliberations.