A long, contentious tug of war over Trident Winery in Pine came to a close Tuesday when the Gila County Board of Supervisors (BOS) accepted owner/operator Ray Stephens’ surrender of his conditional use permit for wine production.
The permit was awarded May 6, 2014 to operate Trident Winery (production) in the basement of Stephens’ residence at 3465 Harps Way in Pine.
Stephens began offering wine tours with onsite wine consumption and retail wine sales at the property in July 2017, according to documents provided to the BOS by its community development department. This resulted in complaints from neighboring residents.
Gila County code enforcement employees said the tours, consumption and retail sales were a zoning violation since Stephens’ home was in a residential district and he didn’t have an approved conditional use permit. A department complaint for the violation was opened July 28, 2017.
This complaint went through the county process, which included a hearing in front of the hearing officer, an appellate review before the BOS and finally, coming before Judge Gary Scales in the Gila County Superior Court.
The county and Stephens, with the encouragement of Judge Scales, entered into a mutual release and settlement agreement on May 2 rather than continue to incur the time, expense, and uncertainty of further litigation.
Scott Buzan, director of county community development, told the BOS the attorney for Stephens proposed the settlement in April. Stephens told the Roundup Scales urged the settlement.
“When I looked at things and was already out more than $50,000 in attorney fees and (the county) seemed to keep making up more violations, I decided it was a losing proposition,” Stephens said.
He said he closed the winery operation in January and has sold off most of the equipment.
Stephens, in the settlement, agreed to termination of the winery operations or any liquor-related business on the Harps Way property including wine production.
While the termination of winery operations at the Harps Way property achieved the county objective to have onsite wine consumption and retail wine sales discontinued on the residentially zoned property, the county did not request that Stephens surrender his conditional use permit for production. The community development office accepted the CUP surrender and it recommended the BOS also accept it.
Stephens said even though the wine operation has been closed since January, when a neighbor asked a hiker in the neighborhood where he was staying and he said, “At the winery,” and another complaint was filed. Stephens said because of that he has to go back to court in July. Stephens continues his Urban Survival Foods canning operation, but is only supplying wholesale customers, not participating in farmers markets.