Planning Commission supports farm winery ordinance with additions
The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday night asked its community development staff to add three provisions to a draft county ordinance governing events at farm wineries and to provide a more detailed study of event impacts on gravel roads.
Commissioners asked that staff add an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew for outdoor amplified music, implement a traffic management plan as part of the special-use permit for events of more than 200 people and require a one-time notice to neighbors before starting to host events.
The commission did not take a vote on the ordinance Tuesday.
The curfew start time was pushed back from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. after Al Schornberg, of Keswick Vineyards, said the earlier start time would hurt his business.
“We host weddings; it is a very important part of our business, and without them we could not survive, especially in years like 2016 when 65-70 percent of our white grapes are wiped out,” he said. “If you think a curfew is absolutely necessary, I would look at moving it to 11 o’clock and not put businesses like Keswick out of business.”
Commissioner Jennie More said she supported the later curfew.
“I would go with a later curfew … and I think it would be good to have some mechanism in place to have neighbors go to the establishment when there is an issue,” she said.
County officials abandoned a proposal to require that farm wineries, breweries and distilleries be on roads that meet minimum Virginia Department of Transportation standards to host events.
The idea was nixed after staff pulled accident data from the Albemarle County Police Department that showed no uptick in accidents along roads that serve an alcohol producer.
Additionally, said VDOT traffic engineer Joel DeNunzio, very few roads in the county meet the department’s minimum standards.
“I start thinking about the roads in Albemarle County, and I would think a very low percentage of your roads will meet standards if they have not had a significant project on them in the last 20 years,” he said.
The data did not specifically break out accident data for county gravel roads, said county police Lt. Todd Hopwood.
Commissioner Bruce Dotson asked for gravel road-specific data after several county residents said they are worried about the effect events will have on unpaved roads.
“The bone of contention on the traffic safety data is whether we have any data on unpaved roads,” Dotson said.
Hopwood said county police could compile accident data for gravel roads and determine if they were alcohol- related, but he warned that the data would not specifically refer to wineries.
“We could run a report and see what the cause was, whether it was alcohol-related,” he said. “The problem is determining where the alcohol was consumed, because there are a whole lot of crashes out in the rural area and on gravel roads that don’t have anything to do with wineries.”
As drafted, the ordinance requires farm alcohol producers to grow at least five acres of crops used to make their products, have on-site fermentation, bottling, sales and tasting rooms and adhere to 125-foot property line setbacks for parking, tents and portable toilets.
Residents who live near wineries or on gravel roads said they are afraid an increase in event traffic will bring drunk drivers, crowds and inexperience to already dangerous county roads.
“For public safety, I think the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors needs to take a long hard look at safety of events at night involving consumption of alcohol on rural roads,” said White Hall resident Elizabeth Neff.
Fellow White Hall resident Bill Pritchard said events put multiple burdens on rural neighborhoods.
“My concerns remain regarding the safety of events and the impact on rural neighborhoods,” Pritchard said. “When an event happens at one of these wineries, those impacts are increased.”