EAST PEORIA — Tres Rojas wines will look elsewhere to expand its business after the East Peoria Zoning Board decided Monday night not to recommend its request to grow grapes, produce wine and invite visitors to imbibe on a 20-acre parcel of forested land off Bloomington Road. The vote followed a preponderance of critical comments from an unusual overflow crowd.
"We don't typically get that size of a crowd. The proposal definitely got the attention of the neighbors," Planning Director Ty Livingston said Tuesday. "In the end, the board didn't think it was a suitable location."
Just last week, the project looked promising when the City Council approved a city ordinance allowing wineries as a special use in a conservation zone. But the Zoning Board rejected the plans for the winery at that location after a significant number of area residents voiced concerns about traffic, crowds and intoxicated bicyclists on the nearby Illinois River bike trail. Two members of the City Council also expressed opposition to the project.
"I can absolutely not support its proposed location in the middle of a residential area," Commissioner John Kahl said Tuesday.
Commissioner Dan Decker on Tuesday also said he could not support the project.
With an outline of the Tres Rojas proposal on their minds last week, City Council members approved 4 to 0 an ordinance allowing wineries as a special use in a conservation zone.
Owner Bob Barry said Tuesday that he was surprised by the widespread opposition to the winery proposal.
"We did not see it coming after the support we received from the city," Barry said. "It is extremely disappointing, but I guess it is better to know now than to find out later that the neighbors don't want us there."
In May 2016, Tres Rojas acquired use of a small vineyard off Allentown Road in Pekin. The vineyard had been abandoned for about five years. The area was filling in with trees, and the surviving vines were wild and climbing everywhere, according to the Tres Rojas website.
“We removed the trees, pruned and re-trained the vines and grafted in several varieties that will become our estate-grown wines,” according to the website.
Barry said it took two years of searching to find the Bloomington Road property, located between Clover and Crestwood roads, that was an ideal and affordable location for their plans. With his disappointment still fresh Tuesday, he expressed little hope for finding another suitable piece of property in the East Peoria-Morton-Tremont area. The purchase of the Bloomington Road property was contingent on the Zoning Board approval of the special use exception that never came.
"(Bloomington Road) was plan A through Q," Barry said. "There is no backup proposal."
Barry tried to defend the project from criticism on Monday. Even at peak use, an informal traffic study showed an increase of traffic on Bloomington Road of no more than 10 percent, Barry said. The business would add no truck traffic, as deliveries of goods would come almost exclusively by personal vehicles. Wildlife and rural serenity would not be compromised because the business plan was to maintain the ambience of the secluded property. Safety concerns over the intersection of an access road and the bicycle trail could be addressed with crosswalks and stop signs, just like the 10 or 11 other contact points in the area between trail and roadway.
"We had every intention of being good neighbors," Barry said. "Now we'll never get the chance to show it."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.