Lane County boasts Oregon’s largest winery and the nation’s largest contiguous certified organic vineyard: King Estate Winery. Visitors from around the world visit King Estate to taste Oregon food and King Estate wine, pouring much-needed tourist dollars into the local and state economy.
However, the Goal One Coalition, a special interest group with headquarters outside Lane County, recently appealed Lane County’s decision authorizing King Estate to operate a full-service restaurant and host various special events such as weddings.
If successful, Goal One’s appeal would eliminate more than 100 restaurant and hospitality jobs, wiping out an annual payroll of $1.7 million. It would also hamstring King Estate’s efforts to sell its wine to national and international markets.
The restaurant and special events are critical components of an effective marketing platform that creates a unique experience for out-of-state visitors who often become loyal customers of King Estate wine. Reversing Lane County’s decision would put King Estate at a competitive disadvantage with California and Washington winemakers who also market their wines through restaurants and special events.
Goal One’s stated mission “is to engage Oregon citizens in the project of rising to the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change.” It is difficult to understand how it serves Goal One’s purposes to oppose a restaurant that serves locally grown, organic food and wine.
Apparently not satisfied with its appeal of Lane County’s approval of King Estate’s restaurant and special events, Goal One board member, Bob Emmons launched a vitriolic attack on King Estate’s owner Ed King in The Register-Guard’s March 20 Commentary section. For example, Emmons made the ridiculous assertion that King Estate was getting a “free ride” from Lane County. What was Emmons’ support for this unfounded statement? Emmons claimed that Lane County has not collected any land use fees from Ed King, thereby foregoing “thousand of dollars.”
Emmons unsupported comments are simply wrong. In 2009, King Estate paid Lane County the customary $2,610 filing fee for its special use permit application. Had King Estate been required to apply for a special use permit back in 1991, as seems to be Emmons’ position, the cost to apply to Lane County for the permit would not have been “thousands of dollars,” but $480.
To be sure, King Estate is not seeking to avoid paying its fair share or looking for a “free ride.” In 2010 alone, King Estate paid $122,000 in property taxes, $494,000 in state and federal excise taxes, and donated $80,000 to more than 200 charitable organizations.
Emmons goes on to suggest that the restaurant and special events, if permitted to continue, would somehow harm farmland and Oregon’s wine industry. Emmons’ comments are reflective of a myopic vision of Oregon agriculture held by a small and extreme group of ideologues bent on keeping Oregon farms stuck in 1973 (the year Oregon lawmakers adopted the statewide planning system).
To the contrary, King Estate has been a major boon to local agriculture. Prior to 1991, the King Estate property was a hay field outside of Lorane. Today, King Estate employs more than 200 people (excluding seasonal workers) with an annual payroll of about $5 million. As much as possible, King Estate purchases locally grown produce, meat and dairy products from mostly organic farms and vendors, supporting Oregon’s agricultural economy.
Neither Goal One nor the Oregon Department of Agriculture has identified a single instance where the restaurant or special events have conflicted with farming or forest practices. No neighbor has complained to either King Estate or Lane County. King Estate has received all required health and safety permits for the winery and the restaurant.
Emmons suggests that King Estate is required to seek a special use permit for the winery itself and that King Estate has knowingly evaded this alleged requirement. However, Lane County approved the winery in 1991, and has since approved additional building permits for the winery. At no time has Lane County suggested that King Estate must apply for a land use permit for the winery. Emmons’ theory rests on a tortured view of current law regarding wineries. Emmons has not pointed to any Oregon county, state agency or court that has taken such a position.
Immediately following The Register-Guard’s reporting of Goal One’s appeal, there was an outpouring of support for King Estate and outrage directed at Goal One. This is not surprising, since King Estate was named the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce 2010 Business of the Year, according to Chamber President Dave Hauser, “because of its focus on the triple bottom line of sustainability — financial, social and the environment.”
King Estate is an asset to our community that neither asks for nor receives special consideration from Lane County government. I am proud to represent King Estate, one of Lane County’s thriving, ethical and environmentally sensitive businesses and Oregon’s flagship winery.
Michael Reeder is a shareholder with the Eugene law firm Arnold Gallagher Percell Roberts & Potter, P.C.