My Knee, P&Z, and Conditional Uses

Last night was my first in person meeting since total knee replacement surgery last month. Ouch. The doctor said my knee would let me know when I over-do things. It did.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have missed this meeting for anything.

Planning and Zoning Commission meetings always remind me how important it is for citizens, volunteers, and electeds to engage in local government. We make decisions that impact people’s lives most directly – for good and bad. Public hearings on proposed projects are a great opportunity for people to speak out, especially when decision makers really listen.

We do. Our motions invariably state that “based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law contained herein and the public testimony…” That’s not lip service.

We take our responsibility seriously and work hard to balance community wishes with private property rights and good governance.

Last night, despite one throbbing knee, I appreciated the excellent demonstration of how that works here. I was so proud to sit with my colleagues on this one.

In particular, one item for consideration was a conditional use application to approve a winery and tasting room. The applicants grow winegrapes in the Eagle Foothills viticultural region. They want to crush grapes onsite and make wine, becoming part of the growing wine industry in Ada County.

It seemed a pretty straight-forward decision: it was recommended for approval by staff, and people in attendance were unanimously supportive. There was just one issue with which we wrestled.

Traditionally, the interpretation of permissible conditional uses for wineries with tasting rooms has not extended to cover small, targeted, and economically lucrative promotional events like winemaker’s dinners and such. Applicants have had to pursue a different and far more rigorous conditional use approval under the category of social halls and events (weddings, festivals, etc.).

I won’t go much into the discussion except to say that the applicants weren’t asking for approval to hold large events. They pointed out and Commissioners confirmed that a narrow definition of winery and tasting room hinged on previous discretionary County interpretations, not specific language in code.

Code states that winery and tasting room uses “include but are not limited to”… Determining that was what we needed to open a door to differentiate targeted promotional, marketing activities (events) from larger-scale events like weddings, festivals, and such.

So doing allows the County to encourage a conditional use that builds the economy, doesn’t add significantly to the permitting burden, and that helps small business owners be more successful.

Working with our great staff last night, the P&Z approved the applicants’ request to conditionally allow small promotional events pending the addition of appropriate conditions which we will review and consider at next month’s meeting.

I could not be prouder of everyone and look forward to hearing what they come up with.

After more than five years on the P&Z, I occasionally wonder if it’s time to step down. I recently joined a citizen review panel to make recommendations to the Legislature on foster care system improvements that will consume lots of my time. On top of my full time job, I want to have a life. But nights like last night ensure I’ll keep coming back to P&Z.

They say that over time my knee will agree. I look forward to that too.

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