By Michael J. Gelardi

This week, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 3280, which creates new land use rules governing wineries on farmland. This legislation is an important step forward for the Oregon wine industry and anyone who cares about sustainable agriculture. The bill does however leave several important questions unanswered.

Oregon’s comprehensive land use system was a jewel of the 1970s. Back in the day, Governor Tom McCall raged against “sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and the ravenous rampages of suburbia.” Although the scheme he and his colleagues created has served the state well, its day-to-day mechanics can be Byzantine.

A key distinction in Oregon land use law is between so-called “Exclusive Farm Use” (EFU) zones and other types of rural lands. EFU zones are tightly regulated by state law, whereas local governments have more control in other areas. HB 3280 only directly applies to wineries in EFU zones, but will also influence county decision-making in other zones.

Another important distinction is between “wineries” and wine production facilities approved under other types of permits. HB 3280 only applies to permitted use wineries, leaving other avenues potentially open to wine entrepreneurs whose properties or business models do not meet its requirements.

For the many permitted use EFU wineries, HB 3280 provides some certainty regarding allowed activities and facilities. It clarifies that wineries may have public tasting rooms and host wine tastings, wine club functions and other normal wine marketing activities without limits. In addition, HB 3280 allows wineries to have 25 days of special events per year. Although what constitutes a special event is not entirely clear, weddings and facility rentals clearly fall into this category.

HB 3280 also creates a permitting pathway for full-service restaurants at Oregon’s largest EFU wineries. As for all other wineries, HB 3280 provides no guidance on what food they may serve, leaving the issue to county interpretation.

Finally, the bill includes a grandfather clause that should protect at least some existing EFU wineries that would otherwise need to make business changes in order to conform to HB 3280.

Overall, HB 3280 should facilitate good business planning in the Oregon wine industry and promote healthy rural communities. Wineries, local planners and neighbors will all have to work together though to implement sensible policy in communities throughout the state.