On August 17, 2016, the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study is released, with a focus on the intersection of the wine, brewery, and spirits industries with the agricultural industry in the Sammamish Valley. The communities in the valley first found success through the timber industry, until the forests had been cleared by the 1920s and their pursuits turned to agriculture. Development increased after the 1960s, replacing much of King County's farmlands. The Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery opened in 1976, leading to an expansion of wineries, tasting rooms, and agritourism in the valley. The Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District (APD) was designated in 1985 in an effort to preserve part of the remaining cluster of farmland between Woodinville and Redmond. The valley is home to tourist designations, wineries and tasting rooms, and numerous farms in the ADP. Although these industries can benefit from each other -- the wineries gain from the borrowed scenery of farmlands; the farms get exposure to tourists -- conflict over land use persisted in the valley.
The Valley's Agricultural History
The Sammamish Valley's adjacent steep bluff hillsides and upland plateaus were created as glacial ice from the Puget Lobe cut into deposits from earlier glacial advances. Meltwater flowing below the ice carved out the broad valley. As the Puget Lobe advanced, it deposited hundreds of feet of clay, sand, and till, leaving an extraordinary fertile landscape suitable for agriculture. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish filled troughs created by the Puget Lobe. The Sammamish River connected these lakes, flowing north approximately 14 miles from Lake Sammamish at Redmond through Woodinville, and Bothell, before emptying into Lake Washington at Kenmore.
The Sammamish River, also known as Squak Slough, had densely forested bottomlands that provided shelter and abundant food for Native Americans including a subgroup of the Duwamish Tribe. Non-Native settlers began arriving in the early 1870s, in areas that would become Woodinville and Redmond, approximately 20 miles and 16 miles east of Seattle, respectively. Homesteaders celebrated the abundant salmon in the river, so much that Redmond was initially known as Salmonberg, yet faced the challenge of clearing the towering trees. Although the giant trees gave trouble to initial settlement, they soon led to the area's first economic boom, as loggers poured into the valley in the 1880s. The Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad's arrival into Woodinville in late 1887 or early 1888 further increased economic advantages with the ability to transport goods.
Aggressive logging destroyed the old growth forests so that by the 1920s, the local timber industry had faded. The communities near the Sammamish Valley turned to their naturally fertile soil and made agriculture the next economic pillar. Although both turned to agriculture, Redmond and Woodinville took different paths. Once the massive tree stumps had been removed with dynamite, family farmers in the Redmond community prepared their land for dairy cattle, chickens, and berry farms. In Woodinville, Frederick Stimson (ca. 1867-1921), who had made his wealth in the timber industry, began a high-tech agricultural demonstration project that eventually expanded to 600 acres. Stimson's home, called the Stimson Manor, was completed in 1912, and the farm was called Hollywood Farm. At its peak, the farm included a sophisticated dairy operation, a poultry farm, prized Duroc-Jersey swine, and the most advanced scientific methods of the day.
Development and growth were slow to move into the area surrounding the Sammamish Valley compared to the metropolitan region. Although horse ranches arrived in Woodinville in the 1950s, the community remained more rural than urban even into the early 1970s. In 1973, U.S. Tobacco purchased the Stimson Manor and its grounds, and the community’s first winery, the $6 million Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, opened in 1976. It spurred greater expansion and development into the 1980s, as the horse ranches were replaced with subdivisions. Redmond had an earlier expansion boom than Woodinville, triggered by the 1963 completion of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, connecting the Eastside communities to Seattle across Lake Washington. Although growth was slow to start, once it started, vigorous residential and commercial development ensued.
Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District
As the Sammamish Valley and the rest of King County turned more and more urban with detriment to the agricultural economy, efforts to protect and preserve it began with the 1979 Farmland Preservation Program, in which the Sammamish Valley was identified as a first priority due to urban encroachment. The 1985 designation of five Agricultural Production Districts in King County further protected the agricultural economy, by designating lands in which agriculture would be the preferred use and provide the most supportive environment for farming in the county. The five designated districts were Snoqualmie Valley, Sammamish Valley, Lower Green River Valley, Upper Green River Valley, and Enumclaw Plateau, together totaling 41,000 acres of the last remaining clustered farmland in the county.
The Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District is the smallest of the five at 1,000 acres. It is located along the Sammamish River and is bordered primarily by the cities of Woodinville and Redmond. The naturally fertile soil includes some of the most productive agricultural land in the state, with one farm producing an average annual production of 5.6 tons of vegetables per acre. But pressures and tensions from urban surroundings were high because of competition for the coveted urban fringe land, which retained its rural character, making agritourism one of the most important issues for the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District.
Although the Sammamish River passes through the center of the district, the valley boasts a generally lower flood risk than the other agricultural production districts located in river valleys. Yet, farmers continue to face the annual challenges of Western Washington heavy rains followed by drought.
Comparable to the other agricultural production districts adjacent to urban communities, the farmers in the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District have adapted by reducing farm size and varying their products. Large tracts of farmland are no longer available in the Sammamish Valley ADP; the parcels average 18 acres in size, with many only 5 acres. While pasture land and hay are the most prevalent agriculture uses, a variety of uses directly relate to the nearby wineries and tasting rooms, and overall draw of visitors to the area. Recreational and equestrian uses are found within the agricultural production district, as well as nursery operations and small farms producing vegetables, sod, fruit, trees, livestock, and seasonal goods for fall and winter holidays.
Growth Management Act and Agricultural Zoning
The Washington State Growth Management Act of 1990 was adopted to manage the state's growth and protect its critical areas and natural resource lands, including agriculture. The act defined urban, rural, and agricultural areas, and what was permitted in each type of area. It also outlined the process to modify the boundary lines. The agricultural production districts comply with the Growth Management Act, and are designated as A 10, with one home per 10 acres. As the various areas were identified, rural lands were often directly across from agricultural lands, and even interwoven within them. In 2005, the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board ordered King County to take legislative action to bring the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District into compliance with the requirements of the Growth Management Act. At that time, approximately 129 acres within the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District had a dual zoning designation as both rural and agricultural.
At the same time the Growth Management Act was adopted, wine production in Washington State and especially in the Sammamish Valley and Woodinville began to steadily increase, with rapid growth in the 2010s. With more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms in operation by 2019, the wine industry in the area was thriving.
The expansion of the wine industry brought with it concerns about the enforcement of land-use regulations and the industry's impact on the quality of life and rural character of the Sammamish Valley. The wine industry has attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area annually, both creating opportunities and tensions for the farmers in the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District. Agritourism is seen to play an increasingly important role in the farmer's success. Farmers saw demands for new activities such as wedding venues, on-farm dinners, educational tours, combined with the farm-to-table and organic farmers markets popular movements. While some farmers in the valley turned to agritourism as a means to increase profit margins, others did so out of necessity because they could not make a living from their previous business models. From 2002 and 2007, the number of farms engaged in agritourism activities increased approximately 300 percent.
Woodinville and King County have periodically disputed what kind of development is appropriate: allowing for expansion of the wine industry or prioritizing the protection of agricultural land for future farmers. In 2012, a contested battle focused on whether King County should move the urban growth boundary, affecting approximately 31 acres, which would have allowed Woodinville to expand its wineries, restaurants, and hotels. Advocates argued growth was crucial to establish the area as the Napa Valley of the North, while opponents warned that intense development would harm the valley's remaining farmland. The county bought the development rights to many of the richest Sammamish Valley farmland and created a low-density buffer around the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District, while Woodinville tended to its tourist district anchored by established businesses such as the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia wineries and Redhook brewery, even though the tourist district included a small segment in the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District. Ultimately, the urban growth boundary was not moved, yet the conversation never ended.
Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study
As the wine industry became increasingly successful in the Woodinville area, tasting rooms and event centers (essentially bars) opened on the lands designated as rural that buffered the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District. In 2015, King County began a crackdown on the illegal tasting rooms after numerous complaints had been submitted and cited eight businesses for operating retail businesses on land zoned rural or agricultural. The following spring, the county commissioned the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study, with the goal of developing recommendations to nurture the wine, brewery, and spirits industries while complying with the Growth Management Act and the policies of the county Comprehensive Plan, and also to improve the interface between these businesses and the surrounding communities and protect the farmland and rural area. The resulting proposed legislation from the study was an ordinance titled Responding to the King County Sammamish Valley Wind and Beverage Study, in which King County Executive Dow Constantine (b. 1961) and his staff developed a set of recommendations based on the study. Recommendations included two proposed business overlay options that would be adjacent to the agricultural zone in the Sammamish Valley, and clarifications such as the definition of wineries, breweries and distilleries, license and permitting requirements and hours of operation for these operations, and parking requirements and associated penalties. In 2019, the ordinance was under consideration by the King County Council.
The recommendations from the Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study and proposed business overlay options in the ordinance quickly drew criticism from the Woodinville-based Sammamish Valley Alliance (a nonprofit organization that focuses on celebrating the valley's agricultural heritage and increasing public knowledge of local, sustainable, small-farm agriculture) and the Friends of Sammamish Valley (a group of citizens, businesses, and organizations with a set of goals that includes protecting the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District).
Although the county proposed no changes to the boundary or regulatory structure of the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District, some of the concerns shared by opponents of the ordinance includeed that the greatest challenge to farmland preservation is the lack of code enforcement on the nearby rural lands which act as their buffer, environmental impacts of development adjacent to agricultural lands, the increase of land value, and a loss of the rural feel of the area. Ted Sullivan, manager of King County’s farmland preservation program, asserted that the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District was the most heavily impacted by surrounding development of all five agricultural production districts in the county. "It's become a battle line between development and farmland, literally and figuratively," said Kurt Sahl, operations director of 21 Acres, a center for sustainable agriculture education (Baskin). And the battles continue.