An Albemarle County favorite for compost, cross country and camping is moving toward a new cause — marriage.
The county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to grant Panorama Farms a permit allowing special events such as weddings to be held on the farm.
The permit launches a new business for Panorama Farms, owned by the Murray family since 1953, as they join a growing event venue industry in the county’s rural area. The 700-acre farm, located between Earlysville Road and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, is already known in the community for Panorama Pay-Dirt, its compost farm, as well as for hosting both the A.R.C. Natural History Day Camp and cross country races.
“We have tried to find new uses for the farm and kind of go with the times,” said Panorama’s events manager, Margaret Murray Bloom. “At this time, the wedding business is thriving in the county.”
From hay to livestock to active campers, the barn is evolving to include a functional wedding site complete with bridal dressing rooms, a “luxury restroom trailer,” and picturesque ceremony locations.
The idea for using the existing 19th-century barn as a venue grew out of several private weddings held there over the years. After family members’ and friends’ weddings, the Murray family decided that it was time to share the site with the public.
Bloom hopes the weddings to be hosted at the family farm will prove to be a launching point for Panorama Events Inc. as an event planning company that can apply itself to other venues in the area.
“It brings a certain awareness for Charlottesville residents that there are still kind of beautiful pockets of this farmland in the county that they might not know about otherwise,” Bloom added.
In addition to allowing Panorama Farms to host up to 24 special events per year, the special-use permit will allow the farm to increase the maximum number of event participants to 200. Although the farm expects its events will be more in the 100- to 120-person range, the higher maximum allows them to be more competitive with local vineyards, for which the 200-person maximum is already allowed.
Albemarle Supervisors expressed some concern for the preservation of the rural environment, seeking assurances that the barn would remain in its current condition.
Supervisors also wanted to be certain that the neighboring area would not be disturbed by events held at the farm, citing potential traffic issues with Reas Ford Lane leading to the farm’s entrance. Additionally, several questions were raised as to what the events themselves would entail, given the nature of the neighborhood setting.
“The state has basically tied localities’ hands with respect to … the regulation of events that can be held at wineries,” Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said. “Now we’re going to extend that and say, because wineries can do these things, we should allow any piece of rural property throughout the county to do these things.”
In response to board members’ questions, Bloom gave assurances that, due to the nature of weddings, traffic would only be heavy at the beginning and end of events and that neighbors affected by the traffic would be given notice of impending events. Moreover, any additions or renovations to the barn would be minor and necessary, such as improved weather-proofing or potential storage for equipment.
Bloom noted that “reversibility” was an important factor for any occurrences at the barn.
“If this project fails in a few years we will be able to look at the land and pretend that it never happened,” Bloom said, regarding preservation of the site.
Despite the initial concerns for the neighborhood, supervisors were largely positive about the proposal.
“They have done a fantastic job on conserving that property,” Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas noted. “I don’t think it’s in the will of the family to expand it [further] into commercial use at all.”
Bloom said her family was very pleased with the decision and anxious to continue with preparations for the opening of the event venue.
“We’re really excited to move forward with this project in a more organized fashion and be able to open ourselves up to the public and allow others to share in the beauty that we all know and love at Panorama,” Bloom said after the vote.