Credit: Vineyards by Glenna Barlow on Flickr

Albemarle County’s response to General Assembly mandates to allow agricultural operations to earn revenues by holding events could soon be put to the test.

Several Free Union residents are concerned that the Gardens at Waterperry Farm on Ballards Mill Road may become a winery in order to become a destination for weddings.

“The plan would destroy the character of our neighborhood, which is that of a tranquil, rural-country lifestyle,” neighbor Bob Brecci said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

Waterperry Farm owner Katherine Kane was unavailable for comment.

While Waterperry’s website does not mention becoming a winery, it features a testimonial from a 2014 wedding and advertises the 74-acre property as a venue space.

“We would be honored to have you celebrate your marriage here, and hope you will visit us during your venue selection process,” reads the website.

The General Assembly passed a law in 2007 that cleared the way for farm wineries to gain extra income through tasting rooms, hayrides and events.

“The Virginia Farm Wineries Act did create some mandates on localities as to how you have to allow farm wineries to hold events which are customary and usual and promote the sale of wines,” said county attorney Larry Davis. “Our ordinance tried to come into compliance with that.”

In order to operate a farm winery in Albemarle, properties must be in the rural area and owners must have a license from Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control. They also must be in compliance with zoning regulations that govern outdoor music.

Another law passed in 2014 by the General Assembly prevented localities from banning events at farms and farm breweries.

In response, an ordinance adopted by supervisors last November allows events at farms by-right if they generate fewer than 50 vehicle trips.

Farms can hold events for up to 200 attendees as long as a zoning clearance is granted by community development staff. For more than that amount, supervisors must grant a special use permit that requires a public hearing.

Waterperry Farm filed such a permit last December, but it has been deferred indefinitely.

“We have been opposed to the special use plan because it would have adverse effects on Ballards Mill Road and it would create a hazardous driving situation,” Brecci said.

Others were opposed to the idea of the property becoming a farm winery in order to qualify for weddings under a different section of the zoning code.

“There must be a way to require those who call themselves a farm winery or brewery or distillery to actually be in the business they claim to be in,” said Bill Pritchard. “Can’t we require the majority of their income be from the sale of their agricultural product?”

Davis said that distinction is not up to the county.

“The challenge for staff is to look at that and see if there can be some other layers that will assure that the farm winery is in fact promoting an agricultural use,” Davis said. “That’s complicated and it’s under a microscope by the industry.”

The topic was revisited during the board’s discussion of the work to be conducted by the community development department over the next several years. The draft work program did not show planning staff revisiting events in the zoning code until the second quarter of 2017.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the concerns of Ballards Mill Road demonstrate the need to study the issue sooner rather than later.

“The bona fide agriculture is something we certainly can apply, and it was suggested by members of the winery community to protect them and us from things like this end run that is going to happen,” Mallek said.

Community Development Manager Mark Graham said he would work with supervisors individually to try to make sure he understands how best to capture their concerns about rural events and other issues.