Winery restaurants still worry some Okanagan politicians

Regional district staff directed to review bylaws to reflect shift to allow eateries on agricultural land to serve wider variety of booze

Some local politicians are uneasy with the evolution of winery restaurants in the Okanagan.

Over the past two decades, the Agricultural Land Commission has moved from not permitting wineries in the areas over which it has jurisdiction to eventually allowing them to operate and later incorporate restaurants.

And just this year, it authorized a non-farm-use application that cleared the way for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards’ restaurant Miradoro to sell B.C. beer and spirits, in addition to B.C. wine, making it the second such business in the province to receive permission.

In this area, however, the ALC’s policy shift is still at odds with zoning bylaws of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which pushed for the caveat that limits alcohol sales to B.C. products.

Last week, an RDOS committee directed staff to create zoning amendments to reflect the ALC’s new direction, although some members are worried they’re headed down a slippery slope.

“The restaurants that open on that (agricultural) land are getting a pretty significant tax break and competitive advantage compared to someone operating in a commercial centre,” said Wes Hopkin, a Penticton city councillor and RDOS director.

Allan Patton, the director for rural Oliver, said he has discussed the matter with BC Assessment, which told him that because of larger agricultural lot sizes, tax bills for wineries with restaurants are “darn close” to those for eateries in municipal areas.

Other directors worried that loosening restrictions on winery restaurants could eventually lead to a free-for-all.

“This is, I think, kind of a sleeping elephant here,” said Tom Siddon, the director for Okanagan Falls-Kaleden.

“We’re only trying to plug the gap for awhile, but we really have to face the crunch issue: Do we want restaurants all over the hinterland on agricultural land where they get all these tax advantages and they’re creating unfair competition for the vineyards that are operating according to the standard practice?” he said.

“These people don’t just want to grow grapes and make wine; they want to make money. Isn’t it obvious?”

RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell told directors it will be difficult to strike the right regulatory balance.

“I don’t think there is any black-and-white type of solution to this,” he said.

His report to the board also noted the ALC likely does not have enough staff available to ensure winery restaurants are selling only B.C. beer and spirits.

Patton asked the committee to further tighten up the proposed RDOS bylaw to only allow alcohol made with products grown in B.C., although fellow directors shot down that idea.

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells, also an RDOS director, noted it would be virtually impossible to trace the origin of everything that goes into a bottle of beer.

“I don’t want to get into a situation where we have hop police and barley police,” he said.

Both Hester Creek and Burrowing Owl estate wineries are also in the process of getting approval to expand the drink menu at the their respective restaurants.