Large wineries in parts of rural Walla Walla County may soon be able to operate full-service restaurants and more easily develop short-term lodging units, if zoning codes are changed.
Opponents say these developments would harm relatively quiet rural areas by increasing traffic, noise and other problems.
But Yellowhawk Resort and Sparkling House have asked the county to change its zoning codes, saying such development is already possible, but only through a complicated process with fewer guardrails.
A simpler, more responsible approach is needed, said Dan Thiessen, co-owner and managing partner of the resort.
The resort is looking to build overnight accommodation and a restaurant, which it says would attract more tourists to the area.
“If and when we get this approved and built, there’s nothing like it in eastern Washington,” Thiessen said. “We think it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Specifically, the requested amendment would allow Type 3 wineries, which allow restaurants and much more overnight accommodation, to be developed in the county’s 5-acre rural residential areas (RR-5).
These areas serve as a buffer between rural and denser residential areas, and lots within them should generally be at least 5 acres. If permitted, Type 3 wineries should be at least 20 acres.
Most RR-5 areas surround the towns of Walla Walla and College Place, with smaller areas in Burbank and near Touchet.
The county is considering allowing the proposed developments with conditional use permits, which means that even if the amendment were accepted, a proposed Type 3 winery would have to be individually approved by the County Hearing Examiner .
The conditional use process aims to ensure that development is compatible with the character of an area, is supported by adequate facilities such as roads and does not create a nuisance or safety hazard, among other conditions.
Type 3 wineries could operate a restaurant and up to 1.5 units per acre of overnight accommodations, such as cabins. Among other restrictions, at least 25% of the entire project site must remain undeveloped for agricultural or other purposes.
This is not the first time a winery has applied for Type 3 wineries in this type of rural-residential area. Abeja Winery & Inn followed a similar process in 2018.
But Yellowhawk is pursuing a code change that would allow this type of development in all RR-5 areas, Thiessen said.
“We believe the county as a whole has the opportunity to create the guidelines and metrics for the entire county and not just for our specific site,” Thiessen said.
“We’re not the only ones in the county looking to do this. We see a huge need in the overnight accommodation market.