George Kirkish, owner and founder of Palouse Winery, off of Vashon Highway, cleans wine bottles in his tasting room and warehouse on Monday, Dec. 9 (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo).

George Kirkish, owner and founder of Palouse Winery, off of Vashon Highway, cleans wine bottles in his tasting room and warehouse on Monday, Dec. 9 (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo).

Winery ordinance finalized with Vashon protections

The legislation now heads to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s desk for his signature.

This past week, George Kirkish, the owner and founder of Palouse Winery, attached a Rhododendron to the top of his wine bottle cleaning machine he calls “my girl, Bella.”

“The flower, to me, symbolizes my affection for this machine,” Kirkish said. “I just really hope this machine keeps running. I bought this machine in 2007 and sometimes, she’s been a little bit persnickety on me.”

Kirkish is just glad he’s able to even run the machine at all, since an early version of an ordinance floated by the Metropolitan King County Council that would have included provisions with regards to property and operations that would have pushed Palouse out of business, according to him.

But since the council passed what Kirkish considers a clean update to its winery code on Dec. 4, Palouse will not close.

“We’re very proud to be one of the draws that helps bring tourists to Vashon,” Kirkish said.

The approval of Ordinance 19030 heads to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s desk for his signature.

The final version of the ordinance the council passed Dec. 4 exempts winery, brewery or distillery businesses licensed before Jan. 1, 2019 from some of its newest provisions.

It says the existing island businesses are not expected to adhere to a provision concerning structures and parking areas, “which must maintain a minimum distance of 75 feet from interior property lines adjoining rural area and residential zones.”

Nor will these businesses have to follow a provision concerning the area devoted to on-site tasting or retail sales, which “shall be limited to no more than 30% of the aggregated floor area.”

Vashon-Maury Island spirit businesses also don’t have to worry about being accessible directly to and from an arterial roadway.

King County officials believed a new ordinance was needed because regulations for wineries and breweries were last substantially amended in 2003. Aside from distilleries being added as a permitted use in 2013, no other changes for wineries, breweries and distilleries had been implemented.

Ordinance 19030 says it will “help King County to prepare for and support the future of the adult beverage industry as it evolves in the region.”

“The changes are intended to improve clarity, administrative efficiencies and enforceability while avoiding confusion for the industry users that may have been caused by lack of consistency with state regulatory systems,” the ordinance states.

Furthermore, “the ordinance adds additional protection for the agricultural zone and provides guidance on enhancing economic activity in the rural area zones while also honoring and protecting rural character,” it said.

Sarah Tanksley, of Palouse Winery, was one Vashon winemaker who had voiced concerns to the council about a proposed version of the ordinance that did not include McDermott’s amendment.

Asked this past Monday about the ordinance’s recent approval, Tanksley called it “a relief” and said it would allow Palouse’s founders, George and Linda Kirkish, to continue the business they “have poured into for almost 20 years.”

“We’re very grateful to council member McDermott for all the work he and his staff put into passing the amendment,” Tanksley said.

The passage of the ordinance is “good news” for not just for Dragon’s Head Cider, its co-owner, Laura Cherry, told The Beachcomber, but also the greater spirits community on Vashon, which boasts almost a dozen tasting rooms.

“It illustrates the council understands that we are unique from other parts of unincorporated King County because of our geography and fragile local economy,” Cherry wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Jim Marsh, the executive director of the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, said he is pleased with the way the ordinance turned out in its final version.

“We’re glad the legislators listened to us and that they took into account the uniqueness of our situation, worked to support small businesses and our island economy,” he said.

Marsh and business owners on the island had criticized the ordinance initially because they felt it contained provisions that their wineries, cideries or breweries could not comply with. The ordinance was written after a 2016 study of numerous wineries in the Sammamish Valley was released — a study, Vashon winery owners noted, that did not include the island.

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents islanders on the council, expressed disapproval over the ordinance and this past fall introduced an amendment to exempt wineries, breweries and distilleries licensed before Jan. 1 from its proposed provisions. McDermott told The Beachcomber at the time he would “oppose the ordinance with all my strength” if it did not include provisions to “protect Vashon wineries.”

McDermott spoke with The Beachcomber on Dec. 4, just hours after the ordinance passed.

“I’m really pleased with the council actions today, for two reasons: one, because my colleagues recognized that the problems that we identified in the Sammamish Valley shouldn’t adversely affect Vashon, where those same issues were not apparent,” he said. “Secondly, that we’ve taken steps … to have clear lines for enforcement of wineries, distilleries, breweries.”

Councilmember Claudia Balducci issued a press release saying the ordinance “protects our agricultural lands and preserves the rural character of eastern King County and Vashon.”

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