During deliberations Tuesday, most members of the Cache County Council signaled their approval of a proposed ordinance that would allow the establishment of wineries in Cache Valley.
CACHE COUNTY – Despite some impassioned internal debate, the majority of members of the Cache County Council seem inclined to approve a local ordinance revision that would allow the licensing of wineries in Cache Valley.
During their regular meeting Tuesday, the members of the county council reviewed a proposed ordinance amending two chapters of the county code on alcoholic beverages and entertained public comment on opening the valley to wine manufacturing.
Assistant County Attorney John Luthy explained that the proposed revisions were necessary to harmonize 30-year-old county ordinances on alcoholic beverages with current state law.
The proposed code amendments would also support the county’s goal of promoting local economic development and the preservation of open spaces by “allowing the production and tasting of wine in connection with agriculture and agri-tourism.”
During the public comment phase of their meeting, several property owners urged council members to protect open space and agricultural interests by giving local farmers the option to profitably grow grapes and manufacture wine on their land.
Jamie Andrus, of the Cache Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor of that proposal, saying that the establishment of wineries and wine-tasting facilities would be a valuable addition to the county’s tourism industry.
In subsequent discussions, Luthy acknowledged that the proposed ordinance still needed some fine-tuning, so he requested to know the mood of council members prior to investing more time and effort in refining its provisions.
Council members Karl Ward and Barbara Tidwell then signaled their general support of the proposed change, as did council chair Gina Worthen.
But council member Gordon Zilles warned his colleagues that inviting the wine industry into Cache Valley could be the first step toward changes that could negatively impact the local culture.
Council member David Erickson responded that every potentially beneficial economic development opportunity comes with that risk.
Luthy shared Zilles’ concern, however, reminding the council members that the same rationale they were using to justify licensing a local winery – promoting economic development and preserving agricultural land — could also be applied to future requests to approve breweries or distilleries in Cache Valley.
But new county executive David Zook offered the most vehement objections to the proposed ordinance.
“I know I don’t get a vote on this (issue),” Zook noted. “But I’ve heard a lot about science and data and economics tonight. According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of American children have an alcoholic parent. Last month, about 26 percent of Americans participated in some form of binge drinking.
“We have about 14 million Americans in this country who suffer from alcoholism. Most of them are men and about half a million of them are teenagers. We have about 100,000 deaths every year in this country from alcoholism.
“Economics are important to our discussion here,” Zook stressed, “but so are the economics of alcoholism, which costs the United States about $250 billion a year. “
While acknowledging the seriousness of those statistics, council member Paul Borup countered that his colleagues had a simple choice between two options.
That choice, he said, is between a profitable winery sitting on 10 acres of open land that will therefore be preserved for agricultural purposes or having that same land transformed into a housing subdivision.
“This is a way for us to help land owners have control of their destinies, other than selling out to a developer,” Borup added.
Despite some concerns about land use density, the council’s newest member, Nolan Gunnell, also indicated that he was inclined to side with the majority on the issue of winery licensing.
After that sampling of the council members’ opinions, Zilles reluctantly suggested that Luthy should proceed with making necessary revisions to Ordinance 2021-05 and return to the next council meeting on Feb. 23.