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Zoning rules didn't age well

Proposed revisions would make promotion easier for local wineries

Jackson County winery operators said county zoning regulations made it hard for them to promote their businesses with public events. County officials listened, and now propose a new set of rules to improve the situation.

That's the way government is supposed to work. The county Planning Commission and the county commissioners should swiftly approve the proposed revisions.

Unlike fine wine, government regulations often don't improve with age. Quite the opposite is true in the case of restrictions that apply to land used to produce wine grapes.

Considerable acreage once devoted to pear orchards is now producing grapes. That's a good thing, because it keeps farmland growing crops and not houses.

Growing grapes is fine, but opening ' and promoting ' a winery is something else again. Under rules adopted in the 1960s and '70s, when pears were the dominant crop, vineyard owners must jump through some very complicated hoops to get permits to operate a winery on land zoned for exclusive farm use.

— In today's changing Rogue Valley economy, that makes little sense. A winery isn't strictly agricultural ' it's really a manufacturing operation ' but no winery can operate without grapes, which require large tracts of farmland.

By the same token, promotional events held at wineries aren't strictly agricultural either, but they draw customers to the winery, many of whom can be expected to purchase wine, an agricultural product.

The difficulty with events arises because, under the rules, the winery must demonstrate that wine tasting is the primary purpose of the event. That's tough on winery operators, because the number of people who will make a special trip just to taste wine is considerable smaller than the number who would visit to take in a concert or a holiday celebration. But all those people might well take a few bottles of wine home with them after the event.

That's good for the winery, and it's good for the local economy.

County planners have proposed new rules that would make it easier for wineries to promote their products. Planning commissioners appear receptive; a vote could come this summer.

We'll raise a glass to that.

Here's to teamwork

Some groups that usually are at loggerheads over who should pay for road and bridge repairs in Oregon deserve praise for getting their act together and reaching tentative agreement on a transportation funding package.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, state legislators, the Oregon Trucking Association and the AAA auto club have been arguing for months over how to raise &

36;4.7 billion necessary to make repairs over the next 10 years.

The transportation funding package would create 5,000 jobs in the biggest job-creation program under consideration by the current Legislature.

Despite the months of haggling, the groups say details of the tentative agreement will be made public this week.

The jobs created will mostly be for construction workers and engineers and will pay well. There is little question about the need to fix Oregon's cracked bridges and highways.

A report by the Oregon Department of Transportation recently found accelerated cracking in 431 bridges and weight restrictions on 401 others.

Anyone who has driven on Oregon's roads will attest to the fact that many of them are in disrepair. That's why its good to see some of the primary players getting together on a funding package to fix the problem.