County Planning Commission work session hears objections from wine growers
By Tarpley Ashworth
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Albemarle County Planning Commission
held an informal work session on Tuesday, November 10th to discuss how best to bring local zoning regulations in line with an updated state law concerning farm wineries. The Virginia General Assembly
added language in 2009 to an existing farm winery law
which mandated that localities take into account the potential economic effects on the wineries when considering regulation. The state also required that farm wineries be permitted to engage in activities that are “usual” and “customary” for wineries, such as tastings and hosting wedding receptions. Ever since this provision was revised, County staff has been working on changing relevant regulations to reflect these requirements.
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Planning Commissioners, farmers and winery owners listen as the proposed ordinance is discussed
Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, proposed an amendment to Albemarle’s zoning rules which he said would clear up confusion while also following state law. His proposal defines that “customary” winery activities include fruit harvesting, the sale and shipment of wine, hosting private gatherings and festivals, and tastings and tours among other activities. But the draft regulation requires that all of these activities take place during normal business hours, which is defined by the County as being between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, and be limited to no more than 50 people.
The draft regulation would allow a farm winery to obtain a one-time zoning ordinance which allows them to operate outside normal business hours and at a maximum capacity of 200 persons. If wineries wish to host events having more than 200 people, the draft ordinance would require them to obtain a special use permit. The proposed rule change also expressly prohibits wineries from opening restaurants on their property.
Amelia McCulley, the County’s Zoning Administrator, told winery representatives that the application for a “zoning clearance” was fairly simple and would need to be completed only once by the winery. The application includes questions about the proposed use, frequency and duration of use, parking, sanitation, and temporary structures. The application fee is currently $35.
Cilimberg said that the application was necessary since it concerned events which “may make substantial impact” to the surrounding community, including neighbors and drivers. He also noted that these regulations were thorough because they applied to rural areas within the county, which are more protected than development areas.
(Rivanna), who chaired the work session, questioned the exclusion of restaurants on farm winery property.
“It seems that we’re almost providing restaurant facilities, but not permitting them,” said Morris, referring to the fact that catering, picnics, and appetizers are permitted in the draft.
Cilimberg responded that the restaurant prohibition was based on a distinction between activities which are accessories to wineries, and those which aren’t. He said more casual food like appetizers were considered an accessory, but that a separate commercial operation, such as a restaurant, was not.
Matt Conrad of the
Virginia Wine Council
, who spoke during the work session, called the draft legislation a “paradox” since the state had just issued, in his words, a “burden-shifting paradigm” which placed the burden on the County to prove that such regulation was necessary. Conrad took issue specifically with restricting farm wineries’ hours of operations, particularly since there was no mention of such restriction in state legislation.
“We know that the folks in Albemarle County are very reasonable. But there may come a time where we can’t always be certain who will be at the helm in the county,” said Conrad. “So we want assurances in this ordinance that the things that the General Assembly has allowed us to do will be permitted without obstruction.”
David King of
King Family Vineyards
told the group about his personal experiences of trying to get a special use permit from the County for his vineyard in 2007. He said the conditions of the permit would have “put us out of business” and so he helped pursue the new legislation.
Charlotte Shelton of
echoed previous concerns about the restricted operating hours. She said it was extremely hard to accurately predict the number of visitors for a certain event and that normal business hours should, at the very least, be defined by season since this influences turnout.
Neil Williamson of the
Free Enterprise Forum
called for the regulations to be tabled indefinitely because they would disrupt farm wineries’ customer traffic and profit.
“I think this should be a dead document,” said Williamson. “I would hate to see the County spend what limited funds it has to pursue a chapter that is only going to be mired in litigation in the future.”
Morgan Butler, an attorney with the
Southern Environmental Law Center
, was the only public speaker to defend the proposed regulations.
“The tricky balance is making sure the uses allowed are supplemental to the winery,” said Butler. “[Some] could have a substantial impact of public welfare.”
Greg Kamptner, the Deputy County Attorney, said that the county has struggled with determining what uses qualify as “usual” and “customary” since the state did not define these terms in the farm winery legislation. He also said that the County determined the normal hours of operation by surveying all the farm wineries in the county for their specific hours. He reported that the 9 am to 6 pm timeframe was actually more broad than any winery’s actual hours of operation.
Cilimberg clarified that the 50 person limit only applied to wineries’ supplemental activities and not to their regular business. He also said that the County was open to rethinking the limit on visitors and hours of operation and stated that the final decision about the details would be made by the Planning Commission and
Board of Supervisors
Morris ended the meeting by acknowledging that the input was “very informative” in helping the Commission formulate the regulations. Cilimberg said that planners would take the discussion into consideration as they finalize the proposal for future review by the Planning Commission.