Clark County commissioners compromise on wineries

Stuart's suggestion focuses on noise level instead of time frame, ends impasse

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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A week after Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke disagreed on rules for noise at local wineries and vineyards, Commissioner Steve Stuart offered a compromise that resulted in a unanimous vote on the long-contentious issue.

Commissioners approved a wineries ordinance Tuesday that allows music and revelers to continue in rural areas until 10 p.m. as long as they keep noise below 50 decibels when measured from the property line. That level is five decibels lower than the state standard. The shift from a discussion of setting a time limit for noisy events to establishing a noise limit proved the key to reaching a compromise.

"My thought process going into this is it's more about the (noise) level than it is (about) the time frame," Stuart said. "And it's more about the level than it is whether it's amplified or not."

Stuart said his suggestion mirrors the practices of King County, which has a winery industry close to a large urban population.

When told of the idea, Mielke told Stuart, "I really appreciate that" and said he was willing to try it.

Madore called the idea "a very good suggestion, a good solution," and later added that he was impressed by the fact the three commissioners found a middle ground.

"I'm surprised we were able to make that progress and find that balance," Madore said.

The commissioners have long discussed what time to cut off noise at locations that offer wine tastings.

In June, commissioners tentatively approved a 7 p.m. cutoff, but later scrapped the idea after winery owners and supporters rebuked the early hour.

At a July 23 meeting, where Stuart was absent, Madore said he wished to see the hour return to 10 p.m., which is the state's standard.

Mielke said then that he wanted a noise cutoff of no later than 9 p.m. to protect the rural character of the area.

With the two at an impasse, they elected for Stuart to return and cast the deciding vote on the matter.

But rather, Stuart introduced the lower sound limit and brought both Madore and Mielke to an accord.

The three commissioners also agreed on slight changes in how food service is offered at wineries, choosing to defer to county health code on the issue and limit the locations to offering food at levels below full-fledged restaurants.

They also agreed that wineries must notify the Clark County Sheriff's Office of events being held that will host more than 150 people.

The ordinance has been accepted by commissioners, but will be brought back for final approval at 6 p.m. Aug. 6.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov ; erik.hidle@columbian.com.