The design is not final, but a conceptual rendering shows what a hotel below Poplar Grove Winery might look like. Image courtesy Ecora Engineering

South Okanagan winery planning hotel expansion

Vineyard hotel would add new dimension to Penticton tourist accommodations

A boutique hotel in a vineyard is just what the area needs, according to the owners of Poplar Grove Winery.

“I think it is desperately needed for Penticton,” said Tony Holler, explaining he has often heard visitors expressing the desire to stay in a smaller chateau-style hotel in the actual wine growing areas.

Holler said the idea came to him when a neighbour approached with an offer to sell their land.

“They had about 1.5 acres of property and it has a stunning view of Penticton, Okanagan Lake and the mountains,” said Holler, who invited his neighbours to an open house Monday to explain the idea.

Holler said about a third of the property is in the ALR, and the rest is not.

“What we are proposing for the Agricultural Land Commission is to propose an alternate use, a commercial use for that property,” said Holler, who hopes to build a 20-unit hotel at the entrance to the Naramata Bench.

“It isn’t agricultural because there is a huge slab of bedrock that goes through it. It’s never been planted, it’s never been used for agriculture.”

While the idea of a high-end hotel in wine country evokes thoughts of classic European wine (and tourism) areas, Holler said echoing them with old world architecture is the farthest thing from his mind.

“We’re not Tuscany and we’re not Provence. We’re a brand new, exciting wine region and we are producing some of the finest wines in the world. That is what we should be promoting,” said Holler. “Our architecture, our wineries, everything we do has to exude that confidence.

“We are going to give it an Okanagan look. We have to develop our own identity. We have tons to be proud of in this Okanagan Valley. I would rather promote it as the most beautiful wine region in the world because it is.”

Holler said the people at their open house raised some important questions, including that allowing this hotel would set a precedent for the agricultural land commission.

“My comment to that is it won’t ever happen. The Agricultural Land Commission is not going to allow hotels on agricultural blocks of land. I think this is a highly unusual situation and I don’t think it sets any precedent whatsoever,” said Holler, who said he felt there was a lot of support from the neighbours, though they did question items like how traffic would affect the area and other concerns.

“The questions that came up are important questions,” he said.

One neighbour who isn’t in support of the idea said she only found out about the open house on Tuesday, finding her invitation in her mailbox the day after the event.

Catherine Rublee owns a home and apple orchard on Lower Bench Road, close to the site of the proposed hotel.

“Even the Poplar Grove Winery has changed the neighbourhood. In the summer, they have weddings and events and there is sometimes a lot of noise and they look right into our backyard,” said Rublee, acknowledging the seasonal nature of those events, but still concerned about the effect on the largely agricultural neighbourhood.

“It’s changed the character of the neighbourhood. It’s just there is this encroachment on our bucolic rural lifestyle,” said Rublee, who has lived there since 1995.

She’s also concerned about traffic on Lower Bench Road, a narrow road with no shoulders, and the disruptions that construction might bring, but she is also concerned about the effect on her farming operation.

“The ALR is not just growing land. You need to have a buffer zone, you need to have roads for moving equipment,” Rublee said.

“What about spraying? If a hotel is in our backyard, are they all of a sudden going to be dictating you can’t spray?”

Rublee is also concerned about the size of the hotel, questioning the use of boutique as a description.

“It’s too big for this neighbourhood. I think if he scaled it down and he came off Middle Bench Road, Middle Bench would be a better access point. It’s wider, it’s bigger, it suits more traffic,” said Rublee.

The Monday open house was only the first step in a long process. After getting approval from the Agricultural Land Commission for the 0.5-acre portion in the ALR, they will also have to go through a rezoning process with the City of Penticton, including a public hearing.

“I am hoping that we could get in the ground in spring next year. We still have a lot of work on architecture, on engineering, working with the city, working with the ALC,” said Holler, adding the hotel could be up and running for the 2020 tourist season.

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