The Albemarle Planning Commission has endorsed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance that will give local farm wineries more opportunities to sell their products and hold special events.
“These are amendments that will… provide wineries as well as the public a clearer understanding of what is allowed,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s planning director.
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In 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation that limited the ability of localities to regulate activities at wineries in order to promote economic development. For the past two years, county staff have been working with local grape growers to amend the ordinance and bring it in line with Virginia law.
Albemarle currently restricts the amount of people who are allowed to attend special events held at wineries to no more than 150 people. Wineries need to apply for a special use permit if attendance is expected to exceed that amount. Additionally, these special events can only be held 12 times a year.
The ordinance change would raise the by-right attendance figure to 200, with permits being required for events that exceed that amount. Further, there would no longer be a limit to the number of special events that can be held.
Full-fledged restaurants will still be prohibited at farm wineries, but the ordinance clears the way for wineries to operate kitchens to provide finger-foods, appetizers and soups.
Chad Zakaib, general manager of Jefferson Vineyards, thanked county staff for working hard to understand the needs of local winemakers.
“It is not an easy business, but it will be made less challenging by virtue of the clarity that this ordinance will provide,” Zakaib said during the commission’s public hearing on Tuesday.
Planning Commission Chairman Tom Loach said additional visitors to wineries would mean additional cars in the rural areas. He pointed out that parking at the planned Byrom Park in northern Albemarle County was reduced to less than 50 spaces in order to satisfy the concerns of its neighbors.
“We have a 400 acre park with [room for] adequate parking but we’re only allowing 37 parking spaces,” Loach said. “Yet, there could be a winery next door to it and that would allow 100 plus cars.”
Planning Commissioner Duane Zobrist said he understood Loach’s concern, but that the county’s hands were tied.
“I think the problem is that the state legislature has mandated that we give these wineries an awful lot of breadth,” Zobrist said.
Cilimberg said the commission could further amend the ordinance to include parking requirements for events that require a special use permit.
Wineries will still have to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to ensure that entrances to the wineries are adequate. Department of Health officials must check to make sure kitchens are sanitary.
The item will go before the Board of Supervisors at their first meeting in May, according to Cilimberg.
Annette Boyd, marketing coordinator for the Virginia Wine Council, said most wineries in the Commonwealth are family-run. While she estimates that the industry had close to $70 million in sales last year, promoting agribusiness can achieve a more important environmental goal.
“Wineries provide for land preservation,” Boyd said in an interview. “If it was just about the money, farmers could make more money by building condominiums.”