Judge’s ruling pleases church expansion opponents

By Jeff Horseman, Press-Enterprise, January 25, 2012

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A judge has ruled in favor of plaintiffs who sued Riverside County alleging that a 2010 ordinance could ruin Temecula Valley Wine Country by allowing inappropriate land uses.

Protect Wine Country, an alliance of residents, wineries and others, alleged the ordinance allowed the county planner too much leeway to approve projects that normally would not be allowed in places like Wine Country. The law passed without a public hearing and failed to comply with the state Environmental Quality Act, they argued.

County officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The plaintiffs said they first learned about the ordinance while fighting a plan by Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship to expand and build a school on its Wine Country property.

The expansion, opponents said, was incompatible with Wine Country’s character and could make it harder to control vineyard pests, because regulations forbid pesticide spraying near schools. They also said it could limit the amount of suitable land for future wineries.

A lawyer for Calvary said in 2010 that vintners’ fears were overblown. Representatives of the church were not available for comment Wednesday.

Protect Wine Country sued the county in May. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask ruled in the plaintiff’s favor on Friday, according to the plaintiffs.

“Visitors and local(s) alike want to see vineyards in wine country, not huge buildings with massive asphalt parking lots,” Protect Wine Country member John Kelliher said in a news release.

“The Court got it right, the County should have given its citizens an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes before pushing through a project that is completely at odds with the agricultural nature of wine country.”

In the same statement, longtime Wine Country vineyard manager Ben Drake said he hopes the ruling nullifies Calvary’s school application “so we avoid a 125 acre agricultural dead zone around the proposed school site.”

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