Castle Hill Cider gets approval to hold large events

Albemarle County supervisors granted a special use permit Wednesday for Castle Hill Cider to hold events exceeding the capacity allowed under the county’s zoning ordinance.

“None of us know whether this is going to create a perfect situation, but it’s going to create a situation better than what exists today,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.
The 4-2 vote came three weeks after a public hearing during which supervisors deferred a vote because the hearing concluded near midnight.
Castle Hill is allowed by right to have an unlimited number of events at which up to 200 people may attend. State law restricts localities’ ability to regulate events at farm wineries.
Under the terms of the permit, Castle Hill will be allowed to hold up to eight events a year at which as many as 350 people may attend. Additionally, it will be permitted to hold a yearly cider festival with a capacity of 1,000 people.
Castle Hill originally sought clearance for 3,000 people to attend the annual event.
The cidery is located on 600 acres in the Southwest Mountains north of Cismont, off Route 231 and Turkey Sag Road.
Ten conditions were placed on the permit.
An “acoustical consultant” must prepare a sound management plan, and Castle Hill must develop an event traffic management plan for Route 231.
A screened portion of the barn used for events must be replaced with glass panels, and the barn’s doors must remain closed. Noise from the facility cannot exceed 52 decibels as measured at the property line. That is a lower threshold than the county’s noise ordinance, which is 55 decibels at night and 60 during the day.
“We are actually going to put a permanent meter on what we determine to be the loudest point on the property line,” said Dave Paulson, a representative of Castle Hill. “It will be wired in such a way that our on-site person who is at the venue can be looking at that to see if we’re in compliance.”
Ray Humiston, who lives next to Castle Hill, said supervisors should only have granted the permit after first allowing one event to see if the owners live up to their promises.
“I’m not here to shut them down or be unreasonable,” Humiston said. “We’re focused on the noise in particular, and I don’t think there’s anybody here who can really promise us that this plan is going to work.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who voted against the permit, said the county failed rural residents.
“We are certainly in our extreme ignorance giving our blessing to these glass panels even though there is no evidence they will work,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler voted against the permit saying he doubted the county had the resources to monitor the conditions.
“How are we going to know if the doors are shut, or the doors are open a crack?” Dumler asked.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who expressed concern about an increasing number of large events in the county’s rural area, said he was willing to take a risk and grant the permit.
“What this is all geared towards is to ensure they don’t exceed what they’ve agreed to, which is a reduced decibel limit of 52 decibels, day or night,” Rooker said.
However, Rooker added he only voted for the permit because it will need to be renewed at the end of 2014.
Additionally, Castle Hill agreed to notify neighbors by mail two weeks in advance of upcoming events.
Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas thought that went too far.
“If you have 52 decibels at the property line, why do you have to reach out any further?” Thomas said.
Rooker said he thought the notification requirement was related to traffic issues, and not noise.
Mallek said the granting of the special use permit would set a precedent for the county.
“I absolutely believe that every other winery in the whole county is going to say [they] want to do this too,” Mallek said. “We’re going somewhere where we don’t really know where the consequences are.”