Albemarle Board of Supervisors meeting on January 16, 2013

After a nearly three-hour discussion and public hearing on a request to hold more events at Castle Hill Cider, Albemarle County supervisors decided around midnight they were too tired to make a decision. A final vote and discussion was deferred to February.  

Some Castle Hill neighbors said they remain concerned about noise and traffic from the historic property that is seeking to expand its event business in Albemarle’s rural countryside. However, several supervisors concluded that approving more events might actually help the situation.

“We believe farm wineries are good for Virginia and good for Albemarle County,” said Dave Paulson, spokesman for Castle Hill, at Wednesday’s public hearing. “They preserve land, promote sustainability, create jobs, attract tourist dollars, support a myriad of other businesses and help bolster the tax base.”  

“We do recognize there is a concern of the balance between the agricultural side and the event side of [the operation],” Paulson said.

Castle Hill Cider is on 600 acres of the Castle Hill property in the Southwest Mountains area north of Cismont, off Route 231 and Turkey Sag Road.  

The matter before the board was a special-use permit request to annually hold one large festival and eight smaller events for between 201 and 350 people. As a “farm winery,” Castle Hill Cider can hold an unlimited number of by-right events for up to 200 attendees.

Of the 23 people who spoke at the public hearing, only four offered their support for Castle Hill’s request, and each of them was either an employee of the project or part of an associated business.

“Like many of my neighbors, we’ve been negatively impacted by the noise coming from events at the cidery,” said Susan Forschler. “Since they started holding events in their barn, weekend evenings are anything but peaceful. Almost every Saturday night we can count on loud live music, the boom of bass, and I can make out lyrics of songs that are being sung.”

In its latest request, Castle Hill has reduced the size and number of the desired new events. In October, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 in support of a two-year trial for an annual cider festival for up to 3,000 people. However, the commission also recommended against a request for up to 15 events per year for 201 to 500 attendees.

After the commission’s October decision, Castle Hill representatives invited neighbors to tour their event barn. Neighbor Judy Sommer said she took advantage of the opportunity to see the renovated 11,000-square-foot barn for the first time.

“I didn’t know until then that one side of the barn was completely open,” Sommer said in an interview. “There is nothing to act as a barrier to the sound. We met with them again 10 days ago and they said they are investigating putting in removable glass walls on that side of the barn.”

Sommer says to get her support she wants Castle Hill to close the barn now to address noise from events already being held on a regular basis.

“My take is that they should complete their modifications to the barn, install and test their sound system and go through a full season,” Sommer said. “Then we can see if they have accomplished what they set out to do, that is to stop broadcasting music through the whole neighborhood.”

Supervisors paid special attention to the noise issue. Castle Hill came armed with an acoustical engineer and his study of existing conditions and the benefits of acoustical glass doors.

“We have had a lot of people saying we should maintain the status quo, but I don’t think they really like the status quo,” Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said. “The status quo is allowing unlimited events of 200 people with a noise standard that doesn’t seem to be working.”

Castle Hill representatives said they would modify the event barn, but only with support for a larger number of events so the cost could be justified. They also agreed to hold themselves to a tougher noise standard than other farm wineries, opting for a noise limit of 52 decibels at their property line.

In March 2011, Albemarle adopted a measurable decibel standard in its noise ordinance. Outdoor amplified music cannot be louder than 60 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night.  

Castle Hill’s neighbors said that even with the ordinance, enforcement has not been practical with late-night events.

“I might be interested in supporting this with the lower decibel standard and with the noise controls that they have said they would put in place simply because I think it creates a better situation than the status quo,” Rooker said.

Supervisors Kenneth C. Boyd and Duane Snow both said they agreed.

“It is a good solution to an existing problem we have now,” Boyd said, referring to both noise mitigation and traffic control measures.  

“If they could demonstrate that they could comply with this for a year … I’d be more inclined to approve it,” Snow said.

The public hearing will not be repeated when the board takes up the matter again on Feb 6.