Wine tourism in the Yakima Valley will soon be redefined if plans for a 317-acre multi-use development east of town continue to materialize. 

The Yakima County Planning Division signed off last month on plans for a winery-themed Master Planned Development Overlay resort that will feature more than 1,100 year-round or seasonal residential units, 150-200 apartments, 30 villa-style homes and a resort lodge with 200 guest rooms. 

The lodge will be the focal point of the property, which could eventually be home to a conference center, restaurants, retail shops, 15-20 wine-tasting rooms, wedding venues, family-friendly activities, swimming pools, biking paths and an amphitheater carved into the hillside. 

A land-use application has been filed with the county, and a comment period for nearby residents ended Feb. 1. An open public hearing about the proposed development will be scheduled in the coming months. 

Developer Rick Peterson, of Yakima Ventures LLC, is hoping to begin work on the first phase of the yet-to-be-named project in early 2019. 

“The county has been very supportive of the idea so far, and we believe we’ve made a pretty good case with the potential economic benefits to the area,” said Peterson, a Bellevue-based developer who has owned the land since the 1980s. 

“Right now, it is up to the permitting process. As planned, we won’t be creating a burden on the school or court systems, and we don’t anticipate any major issues with the community,” he added.

Peterson was involved in developing the Crescent Bar Recreation Area near Quincy in the 1970s, and he knows how to market these kinds of attractions to Western Washington residents.

He said that, in his experience, west-siders are often looking for a reason to get out of town — a place where they can find some dry, sunny weather. Having a destination resort just two hours away will be an extremely attractive option for them, Peterson said.

“There’s definitely a demand for more outdoor recreational opportunities, but people don’t want to have to drive all weekend to get somewhere,” he said. “We think there’s a good market for this because of how close Yakima is to the west side. Imagine driving over the mountain and staying in an authentic, Mediterranean-style residential resort. People can just park their car and be settled instead of having to drive all around the Valley to taste wine.”

Peterson said he expects as many as 18 area wineries to occupy on-site wine-tasting venues at any given time, allowing guests to sample a variety of vintages without having to spend their time traveling between wineries.

The proposed conference center, restaurants and retail shops — not to mention the endless outdoor recreation options and spectacular views — will allow guests to stay in one place for days at a time. A live music venue is also part of the master plan, giving tourists more of a reason to stay for a weekend — or even a week.

Permanent residential opportunities will also be available.

“We’re trying to provide an authentic wine country experience just two hours from downtown Bellevue,” Peterson said. “If done right, this one-of-kind wine-themed community will help put Yakima tourism on the map.”

Long-Term Plans

Yakima Ventures LLC has hired a contractor to complete a thorough economic study, which will provide county officials and residents quantitative data about the development’s long-term benefits to Yakima County.

Yakima Ventures has been careful to limit the resort’s potential impact on full-time residents of Yakima and Terrace Heights. For example, the proposed density is substantially less than what current county zoning codes allow.

Peterson said the planned development — formerly called the Highlands at Yakima Ridge — will have a much different impact than a typical residential subdivision would.

“The traffic patterns will be far different than if this were a residential development because most people will not be driving in and out of the development during the typical 9-to-5 commute,” he said. “To me, this is a development — and a location — that really makes sense.”

The long-term plans for the resort could receive a boost in the next couple of years when the long-anticipated east-west corridor is built between Yakima and Terrace Heights. The road will begin off Fair Avenue and continue across Interstate 82, giving east Yakima residents improved access to downtown and west Yakima.

When the east-west corridor is completed, the road would end about a mile from Peterson’s property. His land sits on the opposite side of a proposed bridge over Roza Canal, which would be part of a separate road-extension project of North 33rd Street.

“There will need to be further engineering and planning to connect the road to my property, and we’ve been discussing a number of ways this could work,” said Peterson, who is treating this multi-phase development as a long-term investment.

He said a project of this magnitude has the potential to redefine tourism in the Yakima Valley — or at least add to its allure — so he wants to be sure it is done right.

“The challenge for us and our architects is to create a comprehensive environment in every detail,” he said. “The more we are able to build, the more appealing it will be. We think this hillside property is ideally situated, and we are confident that we can market it effectively.”

Once Yakima Ventures receives the necessary approvals and a go-ahead from the county, the first phase of the project will proceed later this year. Peterson said he plans to begin building the villa-style homes, the hotel and apartments right away.

The long-term vision, he said, is to provide local residents and tourists with a destination resort that combines the natural beauty of the Yakima Valley — plus outdoor recreation, retail, local cuisine, entertainment and wine — in a beautiful vineyard setting.

“We see everything fitting in very nicely,” Peterson said. “It’s not going to be a big hotel with a bunch of cars and lights, but rather a resort lodge and a one-of-a-kind destination community that people will want to visit again and again.”