Over the last couple of months, King County has sent several breweries in its unincorporated area notices to shut down their tasting rooms. For business owners, the rules on operating these rooms have been unclear, and now financially it’s pushing them in the red.
Dominique Torgerson and her brother Dane opened Four Horseman Brewery in Kent a couple of years ago. It was their dream.
“It’s a really socially encouraging atmosphere when people get to know each other,” said Torgerson.
But they got a notice late last year from King County that their tasting room was in violation of county zoning codes, and they said they were unable to get clear direction about they needed to do to reopen. When they received a licensed to operate from the State Liquor Control Board, it indicated they were in compliance with all state county and city codes.
“We’ve tried to get clarification. What King County codes are they regulating this from?”
It’s a similar story for others including Melissa Earl, the owner of Lumber House Brewery.
“December 8th was our day that we were told that we had to stop serving to the public."
Earl says they are losing business and money.
“Do we all really agree that we shouldn’t have breweries in unincorporated King County? Is this a business model that’s only supposed to happen in urban cities, and if so, then why were we allowed to start?”
We talked to King County policy leader Karen Wolf, who said the county had received complaints from neighbors throughout unincorporated King County about noise at tasting rooms.
Torgerson disputed the noise complaints.
“Breweries, especially the size that we are operating at, are actually very quiet," Torgerson said. "And not to mention in an enclosed building. The only part that we have outdoors is the seating area, so the only noise you would hear is people talking. Our types of businesses do not operate loud heavy machinery, even when we are brewing."
While it’s not illegal to operate a tasting room, the county said businesses need certain land uses permits.
At this point, all these businesses want is clarity around what they need to be back open.
“I wish we could serve beer today. I wish there was somebody we could serve.”
Wolf said the King County’s executive’s office is reviewing the policies on zoning rules for tasting rooms.