Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson, shown in this October 2019 file photo, run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. (Aaron Kunkler/Sound Publishing)

Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson, shown in this October 2019 file photo, run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. (Aaron Kunkler/Sound Publishing)

King County Council approves controversial winery, brewery ordinance

After five years, the county has updated regulations surrounding alcohol production and tasting.

The King County Metropolitan Council narrowly approved a controversial alcohol producer and tasting room ordinance that will affect businesses and conservation efforts in unincorporated areas of King County.

The council voted 5-4 to approve the ordinance at its Dec. 4 meeting, which saw public comment from more than 50 people stretch into multiple hours ahead of the vote. Representatives of neighbors and farmers in the Sammamish Valley voiced their opposition to the ordinance, as did conservation groups and alcohol producers themselves. The ordinance passed with council members Claudia Balducci, Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Joe McDermott and Pete von Reichbauer voting to approve it.

“This has been very heavy lifting. It’s a complicated piece of legislation with lots of spreadsheets and we’ve looked at spreadsheet upon spreadsheet,” Lambert said. “We’ve worked very hard to listen to everybody.”

Lambert has been a supporter of the ordinance, as has Balducci, with both working to find a solution balancing the needs of competing business, farm and conservation interests. The former code had not been updated since 2003, and Balducci said the code hadn’t anticipated alcohol producers and tasting rooms setting up in rural-zoned areas of the county.

“My interest is that we have clear rules, that they’re fair, that they are enforceable,” Balducci said.

Other council members voiced concerns, including Larry Gossett, who noted the large number of people who regularly attended meetings and voiced concerns since spring 2018, when the council took up the issue. He ultimately voted no on the ordinance.

“A wide variety of farmers, trade organizations that represent either breweries, wineries, distilleries — this is kind of unique to me — or represented farmers and homeowners all saying that we are so concerned about passage of this ordinance that we took time out of our schedules and came down here to let you know why we are opposed,” he said.

Council member Rod Dembowski also voted against the ordinance. After thanking Lambert and Balducci for taking up the issue, Dembowski said concerns voiced by conservation groups like Futurewise ultimately led him to believe some of the ordinance could have negative effects on conservation efforts throughout the county.

“It’s a red flag. It’s not a yellow flag, it’s a red flag for me,” he said.

Council members at the meeting said they expected lawsuits or even challenges filed with the Growth Management Hearings Board. Dembowski had proposed an amendment that would have delayed the implementation of the ordinance until a month after challenges were settled. The amendment was struck down in a 5-4 vote. Balducci, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, McDermott, von Reichbauer and Lambert voted no.

The ordinance will prohibit small wineries, breweries and distilleries from operating as home businesses and instead move them into a series of scaling production tiers. Alcohol producers that are on agriculture zones would be required to grow 60% of their materials on-site. In rural areas, businesses will have to produce onsite what they sell.

Dominique Torgerson runs Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent with Dane Scarimbolo. She said Dec. 4 that the ordinance will affect businesses.

“It’s likely that this is going to kill some businesses, for sure,” she said.

Four Horsemen Brewery began selling beer in 2015 after the owners thought they had received the necessary permits. But in 2017, they started getting notices from King County saying they were out of compliance with the county code. Torgerson said it was unclear whether their business will be grandfathered into compliance with the new ordinance.

A pilot program area was also created and will affect around a dozen parcels in the Sammamish Valley near the Woodinville Wine District. The pilot program will allow businesses that were in violation of code surrounding tasting rooms and alcohol production to stay put as the county studies the effects of their businesses. A second overlay zone was cut from the ordinance earlier this year.

Neighbors in recent years have said that some businesses operating in rural buffer zones and other areas around the Sammamish Valley have been functioning as bars, with little actual production happening on-site. While the valley has served as a flashpoint, the ordinance takes effect countywide, with small brewers as far away as Kent worrying about its impacts.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

In this September 2019 photo, George Kirkish, owner and founder of Palouse Winery on Vashon-Maury Island, pours a glass of wine for Lori Coots during tasting room hours. (Kevin Opsahl/Sound Publishing)

In this September 2019 photo, George Kirkish, owner and founder of Palouse Winery on Vashon-Maury Island, pours a glass of wine for Lori Coots during tasting room hours. (Kevin Opsahl/Sound Publishing)

More in News

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

Human remains in West Seattle identified

Bags of body parts were found in a suitcase along a West Seattle beach on June 19.

Stock photo
Eastside burn ban implemented June 15

The ban will be effective through Sept. 30.

Courtesy of the SnoValley Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
Annual count shows uptick in homelessness in Snoqualmie Valley

More people are living unsheltered in the valley.

Summer vehicle travel projected to decrease this year

Traffic this summer will likely be lighter across Washington state than previous… Continue reading

Governor Jay Inslee smiles and laughs Sept. 3, 2019, during a speech at the Lynnwood Link Extension groundbreaking in Lynnwood. A Thurston County judge ruled he exceeded his authority when he vetoed single sentences in the state transportation budget in 2019. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)
Judge invalidates Gov. Inslee’s veto in roads budget

Lawmakers said the governor crossed a constitutional line.

King County cases among younger adults drives increase in COVID-19 numbers

Over half of all new cases are among people ages 20-39

Kirkland man found guilty of promoting prostitution in Eastside sex trafficking ring

Authorities say suspect ran “successful enterprise” for greater half of a decade.

Public and private universities, colleges, technical schools, apprenticeship programs and similar schools and programs may resume general instruction, including in-person classes and lectures, starting Aug. 1. Pictured: The University of Washington-Bothell campus. File photo
Universities and colleges may reopen in fall, governor says

His order requires masks and physical distancing, among other measures, to help prevent infections.

Most Read