County supervisors approve new regulations for farm wineries

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved an ordinance that sets a series of requirements that farm wineries, breweries and distilleries must meet in order to host weddings.

The new regulations govern on-site production, traffic and setbacks, as well as the hours that establishments may have outdoor amplified music at weddings.

The board voted 5-1 after a public hearing to adopt an ordinance requiring new farm wineries and breweries and limited distilleries to grow at least 5 acres of crops used in their beverages on-site, produce and bottle beverages on-site and have an on-site tasting room with regular hours.

Supervisor Brad Sheffield said he voted against the measure because it regulated wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries too heavily.

“I am going to vote against this because … to quote the late Justice [Antonin] Scalia, it is a missile to kill a mouse,” he said. “I think it is just too much regulation.”

The ordinance also requires 125-foot setbacks on the sides and rear of the property for parking, portable toilets and tents, as well as a 75-foot setback at the front of the property for parking.

Supervisors lowered the setback from county staff’s recommended 125 feet on all sides after some winery owners said the new setbacks could harm their operations.

“We have owned the property three years, we planted this spring, and now all of a sudden these setbacks are changing,” said county resident Candice Hark, who is in the process of planting a vineyard with her husband. “I think we should be mitigating the sound with the sound [regulations], not with the setbacks.”

The board asked staff to develop an amendment to the ordinance that would set parameters for how establishments might mitigate the impact of noise and traffic on neighbors and be permitted lower setbacks.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she supported altering the setbacks to give establishments more flexibility in siting buildings.

“Every site is different, and for the enjoyment of the guests, the siting of the buildings is really important,” she said. “I am trying in my mind to have a really high performance bar that the majority of our wineries and breweries already adhere to.”

Supervisors made a further change to the ordinance in adding a provision allowing the county zoning official to determine whether a use not covered in the ordinance counted as usual and customary to the operation of a small alcohol operation.

The ordinance adjustment was made after the owners of Potter’s Craft Cider said they were unsure which events could be permitted by-right and which fell under the ordinance.

Events and activities related to agritourism or directly connected to sales are listed in the ordinance as by-right.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission approved the measure in December after staff pushed the amplified outdoor music curfew from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Sunday to Thursday 10 p.m. curfew may be extended by special exception. That decision came after commissioners heard concerns from the wine industry that the earlier curfew would harm their ability to host Sunday weddings.

Al Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards, said his business relies in part on Sunday weddings, and a 10 p.m. noise curfew would harm that use. Keswick already employs noise baffles and directional speakers to mitigate the impact of sound on his neighbors, he said.

“Currently, 20 to 25 percent of the events that we do are on Sundays, most of them are weddings; weddings generally go to 11 p.m.,” he said. “Impose this curfew, then our business is going to go to our competitors.”

Jeff Sanders, of the Monticello Wine Trail and Glass House Winery, said he supported the spirit of the ordinance but opposed regulations to noise and setbacks.

“This is an issue statewide; we can set up an example here,” he said. “For us, we are in support of all the things that establish eligibility for events.”

Existing farm wineries, breweries and distilleries will be exempted from all of the new regulations, except for setbacks for parking toilets and tents.

Among the grandfathered businesses are 32 farm wineries, three cideries, two farm breweries and three limited distilleries.