Penticton city council is giving its support to the idea of a boutique hotel in a vineyard on the Naramata Bench.
Tony and Barbara Holler, owners of Poplar Grove Winery, are hoping to build a 20-room, four-storey hotel on a piece of land adjacent to their winery at 468 Lower Bench Rd.
The land is zoned for agriculture but is not being farmed. The home on the property contains two guest suites, used for vacation rental. The Hollers are not asking for a rezoning, but rather an amendment adding a hotel to the permitted uses of the property and support for their non-farm use application made to the Agricultural Land Commission.
“Our interest in building the Inn at Poplar Grove is to attract tourists to the Naramata Bench. Wineries and vineyards are completely dependent on agri-tourism,” said Tony Holler.
Without those sales at the cellar door, he explained, the smaller wineries would not be financially viable.
“There would not be a winery on Naramata Bench without the cellar door,” said Holler. “We need more tourists and we need tourists who have the financial resources to buy our products.”
High-end tourists, according to Holler, tend to stay in Kelowna or Osoyoos rather than Penticton. Luxury accommodation right on the bench, he said, could change that.
“We want them to spend their money and their time on the Naramata Bench,” he said.
Donna Butler, a senior planner with Ecora Engineering, said about a third of the property is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and an agrologist’s appraisal said the Holler plan is to plant about 75 per cent of that with grapes.
“The owners still want to farm the 20,000 square feet the agrologist declared arable,” said Butler. “The hotel site will have an agricultural crop for the first time in many years and the very small agricultural shortfall of 5,000 square feet needs to be considered against the significant benefit to agriculture from the new Inn at Poplar Grove.”
As excited about the project as the Hollers are, some of the neighbours are concerned it would change the rustic, tranquil nature of the neighbourhood.
“Those characteristics should be valued, in my mind, not commercialized,” said Chris Bull.
Ingrid Jarrett, general manager of the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos and past president of the B.C. Hotel Association, spoke in support of the vineyard hotel project.
“Our competition today is New Zealand, California, Italy. It’s not our neighbours up and down the valley,” said Jarret. “As we invest in tourism that is thoughtful like this, they stay longer. They actually are looking for immersive experiences where they want to be with the winemaker, they want to stay for four to seven nights. They want to learn about the valley, and they are very outdoor-oriented for cycling and that sort of thing.”
Several of the council members and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit also spoke in support of the proposal.
“I don’t believe this is a precedent-setting case. I believe this property is unique. I believe our agri-tourism industry needs more exposure,” said Coun. Max Picton.
Couns. Helena Konanz and Campbell Watt, along with supporting the concept said that, in this case, final say on the farmland use should fall to the agricultural land commission.
Council voted unanimously to give the proposal second and third reading, and support it to the ALC.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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