The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday night to recommend approval of an ordinance setting criteria that farm wineries, breweries and distilleries must meet in order to host events.
The commission voted on the measure after a public hearing at which about a dozen county residents thanked the commission and county staff for their work on the ordinance and asked them to treat the needs of businesses with care.
In September, the commission instructed staff to add an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew for amplified music, implement a traffic management plan as part of the special-use permit process for events of more than 200 attendees and require a one-time notice to neighbors before beginning to host events.
The ordinance presented Tuesday set the curfew at 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. Establishments will be allowed to apply for a special exception to host until 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Al Schornberg, of Keswick Vineyards, said cutting off outdoor amplified music at 10 p.m. could hurt his business.
“I believed this whole process started out as a process to prevent faux wineries — that is, event businesses disguised as wineries — but part of this ordinance hurts farm wineries as opposed to help them,” he said. “I don’t believe a 10 p.m. curfew on Sunday is warranted or necessary.”
The proposed ordinance would mandate that farm wineries, breweries and distilleries that want to host weddings and events grow at least five acres of crops used to make their products and have on-site fermentation, bottling and tasting rooms. The ordinance further requires 125-foot property line setbacks for parking, portable toilets and tents.
The current setback is 75 feet in front, 25 feet on either side and 35 feet in the rear. There are currently no rules about any of the other provisions of the proposed ordinance.
Existing farm wineries, breweries and distilleries will be exempted from all of the new rules except setbacks for tents and portable toilets. Establishments with farm winery, limited distillery or farm brewery licenses active on the effective date of the ordinance will be grandfathered in.
Among those establishments are 32 farm wineries, three cideries, two farm breweries and three limited distilleries, according to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Jeff Werner, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, thanked staff and the commission for their work on the ordinance but worried that the focus was being taken off local agriculture.
“This is entirely and completely supposed to be about the making of Virginia wine and growing of Virginia grapes and making of Virginia cider, but all we ever seem to talk about is weddings and events and noise,” he said. “People get into this business knowing you cannot make any money making wine. I can’t believe that we continue to pretend that this is something else.”
Virginia ABC grants farm licenses in two categories and allows wineries to distribute to in-state and out-of-state distributors and sell its products at retail at up to five businesses.
Class A licenses require that 51 percent of the fruit used in production be grown on premises. Class B licenses are only available to operations that have held a Class A license for at least seven years and require that 75 percent of fruit be grown in-state.
The Planning Commission in September abandoned a proposed provision of the ordinance that would have required farm wineries, breweries and distilleries be on roads that meet minimum Virginia Department of Transportation standards as a requisite to host events.
County police in September showed no significant increase in accidents on roads that served an alcohol producer. Additionally, a VDOT official told the commission that very few county roads actually meet the department’s minimum standards.
The ordinance will now go before the county Board of Supervisors.