Castle Hill Cider soon might be scheduling large weddings and festivals far into the future. The cidery is treading carefully because the permit allowing these events expires at the end of the year, but that could be changing.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission met earlier this week to consider amending the permit to remove the expiration date, and voted unanimously to recommend approval.
“Early last year the [Albemarle County Board of Supervisors] approved a special-use permit for eight events per year for 200 to 350 persons and one event per year for 350 to 1,000 persons,” said Scott Clark, a senior planner for Albemarle County.
As a “farm winery,” Castle Hill Cider may hold an unlimited number of events for up to 200 attendees. The events allowed under the special-use permit exceed the capacity allowed under the county’s zoning ordinance.
“As part of their approval, the board imposed an expiration date of Dec. 31 of this year so that if it turned out that the impacts of the use were worse than expected or couldn’t be mitigated, then it wouldn’t continue indefinitely,” Clark said.
The “test period” came in response to neighbors’ concerns about noise coming from events at the cidery and impacts on traffic in the area.
Clark said the events allowed by the permit have not caused any significant problems. Since the permit’s approval in 2013, Castle Hill has held several events with between 201 and 350 people and one annual cider festival with almost 1,000 attendees.
“During that time, we have not received any complaints about noise impacts or traffic from the uses at Castle Hill,” Clark said.
Clark added that applicants held a required community meeting in June and none of the attendees expressed objections to the use or had experienced significant negative impacts from the events.
Jeff Werner, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, said that generally there have not been problems with the special-use permit.
“When things go bad out in Keswick, I hear about it,” said Werner. “I haven’t heard a whole lot about this.”
Clark said the applicant has taken measures to satisfy the conditions of the special-use permit, even installing a feedback system that monitors sound levels at the property line and alerts the management if the sound is nearing the allowed limit.
“The applicant has made major investments in the property, including soundproofing windows and sound monitoring equipment,” Clark said.
Trevor Gibson, CEO and manager of Castle Hill, has taken on the task of fulfilling the conditions of the special-use permit.
“It was very painstaking, but we did go through all of it and I’m happy that we did,” Gibson said.
He described the process of enclosing the fourth wall of the cidery’s event barn, saying that the facility had previously created an amplifying effect.
“By closing that one wall, it significantly mitigated the amount of noise escaping from the event facility,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he believes the permit supports economic vitality while preserving the rural landscape. Castle Hill employs 16 full-time workers and brings in caterers, bands, DJs, florists and other vendors to its events.
“We feed a lot of families, mine included,” said Gibson.
Last fall, Castle Hill held its annual cider festival with almost 1,000 attendees, and several other cideries from around Virginia participated in the event.
“It’s really to educate consumers and give them an opportunity to try ciders,” said Gibson.
Castle Hill is scheduled to hold its next cider festival Nov. 23.
Planning Commission Chairman Cal Morris initially questioned why the applicant was submitting such an early request for removal of the expiration date.
“It just takes a long time to move through the various committees and to get approval,” Gibson replied. “We book events a year to 18 months in advance.”
Gibson added that he would hate to book an event 18 months from now for 350 people and have to ask the bride to slash her guest list by 50 people.
“That’s a phone call I don’t want to make,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors plans to consider the matter later this fall.