What started as a winery for Jeremy and Heather Brown quickly transformed into an event center, gathering place, concert hall and movie theater for Battle Ground and surrounding areas.
The couple opened Rusty Grape Vineyard in 2006, and though the work of entertaining customers has brought them joy, a single letter and number in county code has added extra cost and stress to running the business they love.
“We’re just stressed,” Jeremy Brown said. “My wife and I are on egg shells.”
The current county winery ordinance, which was passed in 2013, measures noise using dBC, a standard of measurement for decibels, as opposed to the state standard of using a dBA standard. The dBC standard, in short, is far more difficult to meet, Community Development Director Marty Snell said.
On Tuesday, the county will reconsider the ordinance to adjust the noise component to match state standards — as well as broader county standards. Nothing else anywhere in the county is held to dBC levels, Snell said.
Currently, county code requires wineries to maintain noise below 50 dBC, compared to the state’s 55 dBA. Between the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., however, that goes down to 40 dBC.
State standards, meanwhile, say that the maximum allowed amount of noise coming onto other properties from a business or home is 55 dBA. The state Ecology Department estimates that is slightly quieter than the average office.
For reference, the noise in a library clocks in at about 35 decibels, while your vacuum cleaner runs at about 70 decibels, according to the Ecology Department.
The dBC units, meanwhile, pick up a wider range of sound, Snell said. The idea was to check for a wider range of sound, such as bass at a concert, but in practice it has been nearly impossible to meet, prompting warning letters to wineries who exceed the noise level.
The planning commission voted in May to recommend that the Clark County councilors revise the ordinance. Planner Jan Balaza at that meeting described an instance where code enforcement staff was testing noise levels at a winery, and nearby road traffic was higher than the allowable noise level. It was, therefore, impossible to determine whether or not the winery was within the legal limit.
“I think the idea of using the dBC for wineries was well-intentioned to try to capture bass levels of music, but in practice, it appears to be too limiting,” Bazala said.
The councilors have also discussed the issue at length during their Wednesday board time meetings several times this year, and seem poised to change the ordinance.
Jeremy Brown, who has previously hired staff just to monitor the winery’s noise level, said it is “awesome” that the county is reconsidering the ordinance.
“We can just relax that little bit and know we have that little bumper,” he said.