Supervisors support tight rules for farm events

When the Albemarle Board of Supervisors updates an ordinance later this year to clear the way for farms to hold events, some of its members want to make sure the goal is to support agriculture and not to expand commercial uses in the county’s rural area.

“My main nightmare is that people are going to say, ‘Oh! Great place for a music venue!’” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek.

Albemarle must comply with a new state law that restricts the ability of Virginia localities to regulate events at “bona fide agricultural operations” and farm breweries.

“The state legislation allows localities to regulate a wide range of events and activities at agricultural operations and farm breweries [but] only if there is a substantial impact on the health, safety or welfare of the public,” said county planner Amanda Burbage at a recent work session on proposed new rules.

Burbage said it is up to counties to determine the definition of “significant impact.”

The new law is similar to one passed several years ago that allows farm wineries to hold events. Since then, weddings and other events have become revenue generators for wineries.

County staffers have recommended that any future farm breweries — there are currently none in Albemarle — be treated like wineries. That means they can hold events for up to 200 guests 24 times a year without a special-use permit.

However, staff and a group of stakeholders have determined that “agricultural operations” could potentially have more impacts to the rural area and should receive more scrutiny.

“Important issues include ensuring agriculture is bona fide and the primary use of a property before allowing agritourism and events to occur,” Burbage said.

Mallek said she wants to require farms to produce an IRS tax document known as Schedule F to demonstrate that they are an active agricultural operation.

“To me, that is the bare minimum that we should be doing,” Mallek said. “They bring it in, they show it to [staff], and they check it off.”

Under the proposed rules, events would be restricted to “up to three consecutive days.”

Farm owners would have to monitor any water runoff or soil compaction that would occur as a result of the event.

Unlike with farm wineries, events and sales at agricultural operations on fewer than 21 acres would need to receive a “zoning clearance” before any activities could occur.

“The zoning clearance process is a ministerial review process which serves as a means for staff to educate the property owner about the regulations to ensure compliance with our minimum standards,” Burbage said. “Provided that the requirements are met, staff does not have the discretion to deny a zoning clearance.”

Staff would make sure emergency vehicles could access the site and verify that the event would comply with other zoning requirements.

Zoning clearances will cost a property owner $50.

Supervisor Liz Palmer asked how frequently zoning staff went out to monitor noise at events.

“When we receive complaints, we do go out and monitor,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s zoning administrator.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is expected to be held sometime this fall.