By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Several neighbors of Keswick Vineyards told the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

on Tuesday that they want continued protection from amplified music played at weddings and other outdoor events held there.

“At times, the noise has constituted an attack on the senses,” said Bert Page, who lives next to the vineyard. He said his quality of his has been affected by increased activity next door.

Last May,

the county amended its zoning ordinance

to comply with a

state law passed in 2007

that limited restrictions localities can place on farm wineries. The new rules, which were designed to encourage agricultural activities, also allowed wineries to increase the number of special events they could hold to raise additional revenue.

The ordinance change also permitted amplified music to be played outside, as long as the sound is not “audible” 100 feet away from the wineries’ property line or inside a neighboring dwelling unit.

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Keswick Vineyards is owned by Al and Cindy Schornberg, who were in attendance at the work session

However, the owners of Keswick Vineyard have requested that the language be changed, claiming the measurement is too vague.

A roundtable on the issue was held in December

and direction was given to change the language governing how sound would be measured for the purposes of enforcement.

“We’re trying to balance the needs of the farm winery industry to protect their economic vitality, and the interests of the neighbors nearby,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s director of zoning.

McCulley said a move to a decibel-based measurement would be more objective and would allow for wineries to police their own activities. She said there is also a concern that police are not currently authorized to respond to complaints because land use issues are a civil matter, not a criminal one.

A lawyer representing Keswick Vineyards said his client supports the change in language.

“This is an issue of determining how loud the amplified music is, and we would concur that a reasonable standard is 55 decibels,” said attorney Phillip Strother.

Strother said the vineyard is working with sound engineers to design a system that will shut off the public address system if it exceeds the decibel level.

But many neighbors said the existing ordinance gives them power to have their complaints acted upon.

“They want permission to be louder than anyone else in the county can be,” said John Henry Jordan, another adjacent landowner. “If you can hear the noise 100 feet over the property line, it’s too loud.”

Actress Sissy Spacek said she was a large supporter of Virginia wine, but that she felt rural homeowners also have a right to peace and quiet. She said she herself moved here in 1978 to get away from noise pollution in Los Angeles.

“I chose a location 25 miles outside of Charlottesville where you could only hear birds and frogs and geese,” Spacek said. She suggested a compromise where winery owners could only hold weddings and other events indoors.

Duane Zobrist

During their discussion, some commissioners said the existing ordinance has not had a chance to see if it has been effective, pointing out the only complaints have been associated with Keswick Vineyards.

“I have trouble, with after less than a year rewriting an ordinance, [this] just hasn’t been out there long enough,” Commissioner Linda Porterfield said. She called for better enforcement of the existing ordinance and suggested that police be allowed to assist the zoning department.

The commission’s chairman,

Duane Zobrist

, said he could not hear the music when he attended a wedding at Keswick Vineyards in October, but said there needed to be changes to the ordinance.

“I think what we need to do is translate this into an objective standard,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think you’re going to have a plethora of enforcements if there’s an objective standard. … We don’t have a lot of experience with this, but we have one nasty situation right now.”

No official decision on the ordinance language will be made until a Planning Commission public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.




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