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Proposed ’boutique winery’ north of Bend divides neighborhood as Chang recuses self from process due to donations

Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang gets up to leave after recusing himself from appeal hearing on Bend-area winery proposal.
Deschutes County
Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang gets up to leave after recusing himself from appeal hearing on Bend-area winery proposal.

Sour grapes: Many support couple's vineyard, but 'boutique winery' plans split neighborhood

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A couple growing wine grapes on Bend’s northern outskirts wants to create a  “boutique winery,” with a by-reservation tasting room and some on-site winemaking. But it’s split the neighborhood in a land-use fight that came before Deschutes County commissioners last week – one who stepped away due to long-standing friendships on both sides -- and recent campaign donations from the appellant.

Despite friendships with both sides and election dollars from Bayard, Commissioner Phil Chang first told the hearing audience he felt he could fairly hear the appeal of a hearings officer’s approval of plans by Lava Terrace Cellars on Bowery Lane. But when the winery couple’s attorney said they might later challenge a decision over Chang’s close connections, he decided he’d best recuse himself and leave, which left colleagues Patti Adair and Tony DeBone to hear the matter.

County Associate Planner Nathaniel Miller set the stage for the hearing in a memo (see below) that summarized the process so far and the issues, from staffs’ perspective.

Applicants Duane and Dina Barker are seeking a conditional use permit for a commercial activity in conjunction with a farm use to establish the winery on their 5 ½ acres, in an area zoned multiple use-agricultural They want to start a small-scale wine production and storage in a barn and produce up to 2,000 cases of wine a year, hosting wine-tasting and related events with up to 25 guests, by appointment – not large functions.

A hearings officer heard both sides and early this year approved the request, listing 33 conditions and seeking more details before any permit was granted. But neighbor Toby Bayard filed an appeal, saying state law and county code only allows commercial wineries in exclusive farm-use zones and on property at least 15 acres in size.

As is customary at the start of such hearings, each commissioner was asked if they had any conflicts in hearing the matter.

Chang acknowledged, “I am friends with people on both sides of this issue,” having known Dina Barker for over 15 years, working together on the Bend 2030 project. He also said he got to know the appellant, neighbor Toby Bayard and her husband Michel, when dealing with issues over neighborhood impacts from the county’s Hunnell Road extension.

“I do believe I could proceed in this matter without bias,” Chang said. “I have a history of supporting agriculture, and sensitivity to neighborhood compatibility concerns.”

But Chang acknowledged, “Appearances are important to people.” And while he said he was “open to recusing myself on this matter,” he noted that his two colleagues have not done so in a similar situation in the past. He said he would prefer there be an overall policy that commissioners not hear quasi-judicial proceedings that involve a campaign donor.

His colleagues didn’t weigh in on that suggestion or Chang’s situation, but said they had no conflicts to declare.

The Barkers’ attorney, Elaine Albrich, said they filed a letter earlier with county attorneys and pointing to the Bayards’ $5,000 donation to Chang’s reelection campaign in December -- and $2,000 more “the week after the board agreed” to hear the appeal.

“We appreciate the disclosure” that Chang voiced Wednesday, Albrich said, but “we want to preserve the legal right to challenge for bias later, in case we need to.”

Chang got the message: “I don’t want to hear (the matter) with this hanging over me,” he said, and recused himself, “given the concern about the perception of bias and the question about bias being raised later on.”

So he got up and left, heading upstairs to his office.

The hearing begins at 1:41 on the YouTube video of Wednesday's Board of Commissioners meeting:

Duane Barker said they have been growing grapes on the property for several years, and have “4,000 vines in the ground,” with the grapes taken to a Medford custom crushing facility and turned into medal-winning wine popular at local community events. He also talked about their regenerative agriculture and sustainability efforts that later drew praise from those in the business from near and far, and several neighbors as well.

“I’m here to plow the way for those who follow,” he said. Despite a widely known short growing seas, “we can grow grapes here,” Barker said. “We have proven it and need to encourage others to join us.”

As with many land-use hearings, much of the talk turned on traffic, access routes, parking and impacts on neighbors.

Dina Barker defended their operation and denied having conducted any illegal or unpermitted activity, such as producing wine on the site, instead owning “an army of harvest bins” to transport them to the processing facility.

But she also claimed that “Toby Bayard will paint a picture of ruthless, dishonest, dishonorable neighbors. … they have no problem making up stories,” such as a posted photo that was not even taken on the property but at the processing facility.

Toby Bayard, who spoke next, was clearly rattled by Barker's comments and insisted their commercial proposal violates county code and state land-use law.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever slandered Dina Barker,” she said. “I feel slandered at this point," later adding, "I’m so upset I can hardly even talk.”

“I have no problem with the vineyard,” Bayard said, “but they cannot make wine on their property … all they can do is grow grapes.”

The Bayards’ attorney, Jeffrey Kleinman, said their 10-lot Rock of the Range subdivision has a private, unpaved road maintained by a homeowner association and an historic covered bridge. He said the “only way to address” the road impacts would be NO WINERY TRAFFIC signage, very visible and in capital letters.

But Michel Bayard said “the traffic increase will be dramatic,” and that “people ignore signs." He expressed worry about other impacts, claiming the facility would generate 35,000 gallons of wastewater and that  “the stench from evaporative ponds is going to permeate the whole neighborhood. … It would be devastating to this neighborhood. It is just illegal.”

Along with several supportive neighbors, others backing the proposed winery included Kerry Damon, president of the Central Oregon Winegrowers group and a vineyard manager at Redside Cellars on Lower Bridge Road in Terrebonne.

Amid extreme weather causing stress in vineyards around the world, meaning trouble for many wine growers, Damon said the Barkers are “paving the way for others" for how to make things work in new ways.

But while an opposing neighbor said “everyone loves” the Barkers and their vineyard and farm activities, the winery should not be allowed in a residential neighborhood.

Another long-time resident spoke of a now divided neighborhood, saying one neighbor now “wants to do a wrecking yard,” while some have been talked into not paying their HOA dues.

Commissioners didn’t weigh in at the end of the hearing, and as is customary, the written record will remain open for three weeks in total, so applicants can answer staff questions and both sides can rebut each others’ claims. That means deliberations and a decision aren’t likely until after Memorial Day.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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