Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who started Friends of Sammamish Valley and why?
A: Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV) is a is a Washington non-profit corporation supported by a group of local citizens, businesses, and organizations whose goals are to protect the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District (APD), maintain the character of the surrounding Rural Area, and preserve the rural lifestyle for local residents. Over the last twenty-five years various groups and individuals have successfully lobbied against many proposals that would have negatively impacted the Valley and Rural Area. FoSV was started with the goal of having one organization dedicated to the purpose of protecting the APD and our Rural neighborhoods. The final impetus for forming FoSV was the release of proposed King County Ordinance #2018-0241 responding to the King County Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study. FoSV has proposed an amendment to the Ordinance that would find a better balance of protecting the APD, preserving the rural lifestyle, while supporting the growing Woodinville wine tourism industry. Learn more on our About Us page.
Q: What is the issue with wine, beer and liquor tasting rooms? A lot of people seem to love going there and many of the businesses that are described as being in violation of certain codes are located right next to similar tasting rooms that are described as law-abiding.
A: The small number of tasting rooms being discussed consciously decided to break the law by establishing commercial and retail businesses outside of the City of Woodinville in areas that are protected for rural and agricultural use. The boundary lines between the City, which is urban, and rural and agricultural areas have been drawn very intentionally through processes that are dictated under state and local law. King County established the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District (APD) and Rural Area to ensure the farmland and rural character of the Valley is protected for generations to come as required by the State’s Growth Management Act. Several of these violators chose to locate in the Rural area simply because rents were cheaper. These businesses have been cited by King County for violating the law, but enforcement was put on hold during the King County Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study which has been ongoing for several years.
Addressing the businesses that are in violation of current law should not involve skirting around the Growth Management Act and other laws by creating loopholes that threaten public safety, the environment, neighboring communities, and law-abiding businesses. Instead, the appropriate approach is to work with these businesses to relocate into urban areas. The City of Woodinville has stated there is ample land, buildings, and infrastructure in place to support further expansion of the wine, beer and liquor industries appropriately within the urban boundaries. In addition, allowing urban use businesses in the Rural Area extends beyond just tasting rooms given the proposed recommendations to the regulations would allow conference centers, restaurants, concerts, and other retail establishments. This could create a significant domino effect of broader commercialization in rural and agricultural areas, not only locally but potentially throughout the state.
Furthermore, grandfathering in the violating businesses will establish the precedent that breaking the law is not only acceptable, but will in fact be rewarded. This will encourage others to do so to the detriment of the rural residents of our wonderful Valley, the farms, and to other law-abiding businesses who benefit from the visible presence of rural and agricultural lands to draw visitors to their establishments.
Q: Why have these small number of businesses been allowed to operate in violation of King County regulations for so long?
A: The handful of businesses in question were cited for violations, but given a grace period on enforcement by King County that allowed them to continue operating, even when they were knowingly breaking the law, while the County conducted the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study. FoSV does not agree with this approach as it further entrenched the violating businesses and goes against all of the processes that were undertaken by stakeholders and the County to legally establish boundaries that protect the delicate balance between urban, rural, and agricultural areas. As part of the grace period allowance, the businesses were required to not expand their operations, but some of them did anyway. The County should allow one year for the violating businesses to relocate within urban areas and resume enforcement of existing regulations.
Q: What is the difference between a tasting room and a bar?
A: The primary conceptual distinction between a tasting room and a bar is the business objective - and corresponding revenue model - of the establishment. The primary objective of a tasting room is to get people to sign up for that winery’s wine club - or at least to buy a few bottles of wine to take with them after their tasting. There may be infrequent events centered around milestones like a new release that rewards wine club members, they pick up their wine, etc. The primary objective for a (wine) bar on the other hand is to sell as much wine on-site as possible. To that end they will be open longer hours, frequently offer food and live entertainment, and host frequent private events. It is FoSV’s assertion that wine bars need to be located in urban areas with the infrastructure (water, sewer, parking, etc) to handle that type of retail business.
Q: How is the proposed Ordinance skirting around the legal process? Isn’t the King County Council the legal entity to regulate things like this? Isn’t it within their purview to change current regulations?
A: The proposed Ordinance does not follow the required process, as defined under both state and county law, for expanding urban uses and activities onto Rural Area lands. Urban uses are limited by law to the Urban Growth Area. It violates numerous state and local regulations including the long-standing Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA), the King County Comprehensive Plan, King County SO-120: Agricultural Production Buffer SDO, and King County Code 21A.55 Zoning: Demonstration Projects. It also fails to meet the goals of the King County Action Report dated April 26, 2018 - the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study.
The proposed Ordinance is an attempt to skirt the legal requirements for moving the Urban Growth Boundary. State law requires that urban uses be located in in the Urban Growth Area (UGA) and not in the Rural Area. It also mandates that resource lands, including farmland be protected. The Rural Area serves as a buffer to the Sammamish Valley APD. The County is required to follow State law when adopting regulations such as the proposed Beverage Ordinance. If the County does not follow State law when adopting the Ordinance it will be subject to legal challenge.
A key tenet for moving the Urban Growth Boundary which is required to locate urban commercial uses as currently proposed into a Rural Area is that there must be insufficient capacity in the existing Urban Growth Area. However, there is more than adequate capacity to locate tasting rooms in the City of Woodinville. The City has stated there is ample land, buildings, and infrastructure in place to support further expansion of the wine industry appropriately within its urban boundaries. The businesses operating illegally in the Rural Area make up less the 5% of the operating tasting rooms. The vast majority of wineries and alcohol establishments operate legally in the Urban Growth Area.
Q: Isn’t change inevitable? How can concerned citizens compete with large commercial interests who want to develop the Sammamish Valley?
A: Our community has successfully defeated several major efforts in the last 20 years to commercialize portions of the Sammamish Valley and the adjacent rural neighborhoods. The leaders of Friends of Sammamish Valley are experienced, pragmatic, and proven. With all of us working together we can successfully protect the rural and agricultural areas of Sammamish Valley while allowing commercial and retail businesses to thrive in urban areas.
Q: Isn’t the easy answer, to solve this issue for everyone, grandfathering in the establishments that are operating retail businesses in the Rural Area and Agricultural Production District?
A: Addressing the businesses who are in violation of current law should not involve skirting around the Growth Management Act and other laws by creating loopholes that threaten public safety, the environment, the farms, neighboring communities, and law-abiding businesses. Instead, the appropriate approach is to work with these businesses to relocate them into nearby Urban Areas. The City of Woodinville has stated there is ample land, buildings, and infrastructure in place to support further expansion of the wine industry appropriately within its urban boundaries.
This issue extends beyond just tasting rooms and event centers. Already, recommended changes to the regulations have been submitted by a handful of operators that would allow for conference centers, restaurants, concert venues, and other retail establishments. Once one type of urban use retail gets a foothold in the Rural Area, it is very difficult to stop other types of retail from establishing themselves as well.
Skirting the GMA by allowing urban use businesses to operate legally in the Sammamish Valley Rural Area could create a significant domino effect of broader commercialization in rural and agricultural areas countywide and statewide. What is viewed by many as a local issue could potentially have broader implications.
Furthermore, grandfathering in the violating businesses will establish the precedent that breaking the law is not only acceptable, but will in fact be rewarded. This will encourage others to do so to the detriment of rural residents, farms and the large number of law-abiding businesses.
Q: SR 202 (Redmond-Woodinville Rd) is already busy, and these businesses have been in operation for a while. I don’t see the concern for additional traffic.
A: There is little question that there are already significant traffic concerns in the Sammamish Valley, especially along the main arterial roads through the Valley. The Washington State Department of Transportation considers SR 202 a rural road where increasing capacity is impractical. Traffic concerns was one of the focus areas in the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study, and it in fact acknowledges that the already existing traffic impacts cannot be mitigated due to the physical constraints of the location (environmental and right-of way issues) and the lack of funding.
The proposed Ordinance does nothing to help address traffic concerns. Instead it furthers the problem by allowing retail and commercial businesses to legally and permanently operate on rural and agricultural land along SR 202, which perpetuates and amplifies traffic issues in the area. SR 202 was not designed to accommodate the type of traffic we will see if the Rural Area in the Valley is converted to commercial use.
Q: Won’t commercial development in the Valley help our residential property values?
A: We believe the proposed development in rural and agricultural areas will actually suppress residential property values. A big driver of our property valuation is the rural character presented by the Sammamish Valley and the surrounding area. It is one of the major reasons the people supporting Friends of Sammamish Valley made the decision to move here – as did many other people. We all had many choices, and a leading reason to locate here was the scenery and feel of the Valley. We have one of the most unique settings of anywhere in the Puget Sound – a blend of rural area, farming, and the wine tourism industry - that is only 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. This is unique not only to Seattle, but also across the United States. That uniqueness will go away with commercial development in the Rural Areas and the APD. Protecting the Sammamish Valley from commercialization is vital to ensuring strong residential property values.
Q: Aren’t these ‘Development Overlays’ really just limited tests? Why not let them go ahead and see how they turn out?
A: The proposed Beverage Ordinance states that the purpose of the Demonstration Overlays A and B is to evaluate the impact of “remote tasting rooms” and “expanded wine and adult beverage-based uses” (event centers) in the Rural Area and in the APD (lines 34-37 of the Ordinance).
The “test” plan is completely flawed for two reasons. The Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study already evaluated the multiple impacts of expanding wine, beer and liquor tasting rooms and sales into the Rural Area, including the impacts of traffic which cannot be mitigated both due to the County’s lack of funds and environmental constraints. Additionally, the Overlays are adjacent to the City of Woodinville’s commercially zoned Tourist District which already contains a significant number of urban activities - tasting rooms, bars, event spaces, restaurants, and other entertainment options. It won’t be possible to distinguish the positive or negative effects caused by the Overlays A & B in the Rural Area from the effects created by the Tourist District. The Sammamish Valley Overlay A and B tests cannot provide any unique data for actionable decisions, and thus do not meet the stated objectives.
But at an even deeper level, there is no real need for these Demonstration Overlay tests in the first place. The Woodinville Tourist District is situated midway in the Sammamish Valley between Woodinville and Redmond, and is surrounded by lands zoned A and RA. If the county wishes to understand the impact of tasting rooms in a rural setting it should review the positive and negative effects already evident from the Woodinville Tourist District.
Finally, Overlays A and B (find maps and detailed explanations here) are portrayed as 3 year tests, but any business established in these Overlay areas will be permanently grandfathered in as a ‘legal, non-conforming use’ even if the test is deemed to be a failure. We believe there will likely be rush of commercial activity within the test phase.
Q: There are already a lot of businesses in the that Sammamish Valley that aren’t agriculture-related: Gold Creek Sports Club, Redwood Driving Range, etc. So, what is the concern with a few tasting rooms and a bakery or two?
A: The above-mentioned business establishments pre-date the Growth Management Act (GMA) and the formation of the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District (APD). Because of that, they are grandfathered in as ‘legal, non-conforming uses’ – but only to the extent those businesses don’t change their character. Therefore, they could not be sold to a commercial developer, knocked down, and turned into something totally different.
Q: You can’t be a ‘real winery’ located in the Sammamish Valley on APD farm land if that requires that you make wine from grapes grown on-site. Why hold wineries to this unrealistic standard?
A: The Growth Management Act requires that Agricultural Lands be preserved for agricultural use. Zoning must require that the land be used for agriculture and activities that support agricultural use. Operating a winery, brewery or distillery on agricultural land can only be permitted if it supports the growing of crops on that land, thus the requirement that the majority of products used in the winery, brewery or distillery production must be grown on the site.
Wineries, breweries and distilleries who wish to be located in the Sammamish Valley or near Woodinville can operate legally in the Urban and Rural Areas. Within those areas these businesses do not have to meet the 60% requirement and can bring in grapes, hops or other grains from elsewhere.
Q: I see lots of unused land in the Sammamish Valley. How much real farming is going on? Why not just let wineries operate there?
A: The Sammamish Valley APD includes some of the most productive agricultural land in the State, with one local farm producing an average annual production of 5.6 tons of vegetables per acre. There is enough farmland available in the Sammamish Valley to produce over 12 million pounds of vegetables annually, enough to provide more than 80,000 people with 150 lbs each year. Some farms, in addition to selling their produce, also provide fresh local organic vegetables to people who do not have access. They do this by weekly deliveries, free of charge, to agencies such as food banks, youth residential programs, domestic abuse housing programs, and programs which provide services to those in transition from homelessness.
The APD supports numerous agricultural businesses such as the Root Connection, the large vegetable farm on south side of NE 124th St, Olympic Nursery, JB Instant Lawn, Red-Wood Christmas Tree Farm, Classic Nursery and the Hmong farmers who sell their flowers and vegetables at local markets.
Some of the visible low density land in the Sammamish Valley is also in the Rural Area and not part of the APD. The low-density Rural Area, as well as being consistent with the rural character that local residents desire, provides an important buffer to the farmland. In fact, King County Special District Overlay 120 (SO-120) is an agricultural production buffer that runs along the east side of Redmond-Woodinville Rd. It contains strict provisions to protect the APD farm land from upslope residential land uses. The proposed commercial business overlay in the Ordinance is directly on top of the SO-120 overlay, and thus in direct violation of the King County Comprehensive Plan.
The proposed changes in the Beverage Ordinance are not just about ‘letting a few wineries do their thing.’ The people behind the changes have a very broad vision for intensive commercial development in all parts the Valley - not just in those areas zoned as Rural Areas, but also throughout the protected Agricultural Production District itself – incorporating businesses as diverse as miniature golf, outdoor performance spaces, campgrounds, conference centers, passenger train stations, bike & canoe rentals, and more. Learn more about their alternative vision for the Valley here.
Q. If we don’t support the wine and liquor businesses they’ll go bankrupt. It’s their livelihood. Why are you trying to hurt these small businesses? How do we help them?
A: FoSV, and the policies we are encouraging, fully support the 120+ legal wineries, tasting rooms, and adult beverage related businesses around Woodinville and elsewhere around the county. These enterprises have invested their time and resources while respecting the laws that organize and protect our community. As for the handful of violators at issue here, our solution is that they should do as the vast majority of businesses have done: locate their operations on properties that are zoned for their retail sales and events activities. The City of Woodinville has stated there is ample land, buildings, and infrastructure in place to support further expansion of the wine industry appropriately within its urban boundaries.
It should also be noted that none of the locations in violation in Sammamish Valley are actual wineries. These retail outlets all have wine production located elsewhere, with most being in the Walla Walla area. Some of them have several tasting rooms around the state, as well as wholesale and retail distribution. What they are being asked to do is to move one tasting room/event center location. Coming into compliance with King County zoning does not impact their actual wine production facilities.
The best way we can help our local businesses who are operating legally, beyond enjoying their products, is to demand that King County respect their compliance with the zoning laws by enacting competent code enforcement, the lack of which has led to the problems we’re now seeing. The County needs to address these few businesses who are reaping a competitive advantage by skirting laws and cutting corners and are now threatening the underlying ambiance of the area with their effort to open the Valley to retail development.
Q: What sort of business license do these illegal ‘wineries’ have to operate? Is their license listed on the current illegal business address?
A: King County does not issue business licenses for wineries, tasting rooms, etc. The only license that applies is issued by the State of Washington’s Liquor & Cannabis Control Board (LCCB). This State license is address-specific and states that exercise of the license is contingent on the business complying with the zoning codes of the applicable municipality.
As for the violating tasting rooms and event centers at issue in the Sammamish Valley, King County is the responsible municipality because these properties are in Rural Unincorporated King County, which is outside the city limits of Woodinville and Redmond. The RA 2.5 zoning for these properties is very clear that such retail sales outlets are not permitted.
Wineries, that actually produce wine, are legal in the Rural Area. They are allowed to have an adjoining tasting room, for sales of products produced on-site. However, all of the tasting rooms and event centers at issue are selling products made in remote locations and thus are in violation of zoning codes.
Q. For each tasting room and event center business, how many parking spots are they allowed? If the Beverage Ordinance passes wouldn’t Redmond-Woodinville Road become a parking lot? If the cars are parked on the grass, wouldn’t the oil leaks and fluids pollute the ground water?
A. If the Beverage Ordinance as proposed passes, roads all over rural King County could soon be lined with retail sales outlets. Redmond-Woodinville Rd would certainly be leading the way. Traffic congestion would be vastly increased as cars stop to turn in or wait to cross opposing traffic flow to access what would essentially be strip-mall style development.
Businesses will be required to have some parking, but it will not be adequate to support the number of visitors. We can already see, what were once farms and front yards of single family residences, turned into parking lots on weekends in the Sammamish Valley. The results of such development will profoundly change not only our neighborhoods around the Sammamish Valley, but potentially across unincorporated King County. Environmental pollution and water runoff from parking lot compaction is a threat to the viability of the farmland. Which is one reason why the Rural Area buffer to the APD farmland is so important.
Q. These illegal businesses are zoned RA 2.5. Does that mean that any of my neighbors can start a winery, brewery, tasting room or event center next door to me?
A. Under the current zoning codes, your neighbor would need a property of 5 acres or more in order to have a winery, brewery or distillery production facility. Home occupation beverage-making businesses are also currently allowed in the Rural Area, but with greater restrictions on size and visitation. Tasting rooms and event centers are not allowed in the Rural Area.
As part of the proposed Beverage Ordinance, tasting rooms and event centers would be allowed in the “Demonstration Project” Overlay areas. Additionally, loopholes in the new proposed code, that will affect all of rural King County, make it easier for a business to call a facility a “winery” when it is not really producing any wine. For example, an operator with a barrel of wine in the back room could claim it is a winery and then operate a tasting room with wines or other adult beverages produced offsite and also hold events on that property. A handful of influential interests are also proposing code changes that would allow wineries in rural King County neighborhoods on lots as small as 2.5 acres, reduced from the 5-acre limit today. There is also a formal proposal to reduce that minimum lot size to 1-acre.
The Friends of Sammamish Valley amendment to the Beverage Ordinance removes the Demonstration Project overlays from the Sammamish Valley. It also Improves the remaining provisions of the Ordinance by:
Closing loopholes that would allow retail operations to call themselves “wineries”, “breweries” or “distilleries” when they in fact they produce little or no product on-site.
Stipulating that “tastings and sales” conducted at beverage production sites are for products made on-site only.
Q. Is isn’t fair to punish the businesses just because King County hasn’t been enforcing the codes.
A. The businesses in question have been cited for violations, but given a grace period on enforcement by King County that allowed them to continue operating, even when they were knowingly breaking the law, while the County conducted the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study. The grace period also required that these businesses not expand their illegal uses. Many of the violators have blatantly ignored this and expanded their businesses.
We agree that King County should be enforcing the law, but just because they haven’t been enforcing the law doesn’t mean it’s okay to break the law. In fact, legitimizing these businesses that have been operating illegally is unfair to the 100+ adut beverage businesses who have been legally operating. Those legal businesses have been playing by the rules, but the proposed Beverage Ordinance will give the illegal businesses an unfair advantage and sends the message that it is not only okay to break the law, but it is something you can be rewarded for.
Furthermore, each of the illegally operating businesses made a conscious decision to stay while the study, with an unknown outcome, was conducted over the last 3+ years. Every business takes risks and in this case the risks (potentially having to move or come into compliance) were known to these businesses.