Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Frustrations mount between Wolves & People and neighbors over brewery's right to host events

A long-standing battle between a local brewery and its neighbors is headed to Salem, where neighborhood complaints will go before the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

The Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg, founded in 2016 by Christian DeBenedetti, has faced constant pushback from neighbors for the brewery's planned agri-tourism events. Though the brewery has received approval from several boards – including the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners and the Newberg City Council – neighbors have fought back against the brewery's ability to host events, which included a food cart.

The main challenger and appellant to the business' renewal was the land use advocacy group Friends of Yamhill County, as well as neighbors such as David Wall, who filed appeals to the brewery's application to host events.

The brewery's permit limits their events to 18 a year, although it does hold a permit allowing it to serve beer tastings daily and year round.

While Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett noted her initial concern back in 2017 about some of the language in the permit — such as the number of cars, people and duration of events — she conceded county ordinance allows wineries to host the same types of events.

"If wineries are permitted this similar use, how do we then deny the same uses and permissions to an enterprise that really just does the same thing with a different type of product?" she asked at a 2017 hearing. "If a winery was there and permitted, how do we turn around and say if you replace it with a brewery — it didn't make any sense to me."

Wall led the appeal in 2017, saying the brewery would disturb the peace and tranquility of the Benjamin Road neighborhood where it sits.

The permit's conditions were changed to allow the brewery to hold agri-tourism events for no more than three consecutive days, not to exceed five hours on a Friday, eight hours on a Saturday and five hours on a Sunday, all events ending by 9 p.m. Planners said this would address any neighborhood concerns about headlight interference.

To combat the five separate appeals to the permit, DeBenedetti has asked fans of the brewery to help defer the costs of legal fees. On their website, DeBenedetti states the brewery has been "hounded by a small group of vocal neighbors (none of whom can see the brewery directly from their homes) and a one-man, radical anti-development nonprofit led by a lawyer based in another town."

DeBenedetti, who is also the head brewer, wrote that the latest complaint against the brewery – which is on Springbrook Farm, where he lives – is against a proposed yoga class.

"They've avowed time and again their desire to end our events and put us entirely out of business," he said in his post. "And each time, unanimously, we are backed up by city and county officials, because not only do good laws back us up, and our good record backs us up, the community at large has our back as well."

DeBenedetti recently said the LUBA meeting was a "rather dry debate" about the language of agri-tourism laws that the brewery used to get its permit approved. He said the opposition wants to challenge the language itself.

"We're trying to stay focused on beer making and building our local community with local farm suppliers," DeBenedetti said. "We want to talk about beer making and the projects we're doing on the farm."

He praised the farm growing some of its own ingredients, such as yeast and honey, and said they are continuing to focus on upcoming projects.

"It is dismaying that several years in we're still dealing with several appeals even after county commissioners have weighed in," he said. "We feel this matter has been very thoroughly and fairly debated and we should be able to move on soon and that's what we hope will happen."

Friends of Yamhill County officials appeared before LUBA on May 14. A LUBA decision is expected by June 18.

Board member and former president Sid Friedman said the group doesn't believe the brewery has met the legal standard necessary to support the events they plan. He added that the location is nearly surrounded by land farmed by contract farmers and that the income from the events far exceeds that produced by crop production on the land.

Friedman – who is not a neighbor to the farm but serves as a spokesperson for Friends of Yamhill County, a subsidiary of 1000 Friends of Oregon – said the farmhouse brewery has become something closer to a full-fledged tavern, which is not the original intended purpose. A tasting room is a smaller affair, he said, whereas a tavern is a different model with customers ordering multiple beers.

He also said the brewery is different from a winery in that under county ordinances a winery must have a certain number of acres committed to growing grapes for the wine. He said the land around Wolves & People grows hazelnuts and doesn't come close to those standards.

DeBenedetti said the back and forth arguing has been difficult not only for the brewery, but is a potential threat to future breweries, wineries, cider houses and other businesses in the hospitality industry in the region.

"I think people in the industry who are very much interested in the future of Yamhill County as a beautiful and vibrant place to live, if they see groups that oppose any and all things like this are allowed to stop projects and progress, it would be really unfortunate," he said. "It would have unintended effects, economic and otherwise."

He added that the state Senate also recently passed a law to legalize farm breweries and agri-tourism events on farm breweries, which he expected to pass through the House and then advance to Gov. Kate Brown's desk for a signature.

"We really believe that farmhouse brewing is one of the most innovative ways to save and protect farmland and for families to diversify their farms," he said.

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