By Brian Wheeler
Friday, December 3, 2010
Seven months after approving
new regulations for farm wineries
, Albemarle County officials held a roundtable discussion Thursday to gather community feedback. Some neighbors of Albemarle’s farm wineries called for a crackdown on noise coming from special events such as weddings. Wineries asked for a clearer standard on appropriate noise levels.
County spokeswoman Lee Catlin said the roundtable, attended by about 35 people, was initiated both to get additional feedback and to respond to a few citizen complaints.
“There was a sense that we had gone through the busiest season, and we wanted to check in and see if there were any unintended consequences,” Catlin said in an interview. “We had one particular issue — the noise levels.”
, executive director of the
Free Enterprise Forum
, said the noise standards for outdoor amplified music had been identified heading into the roundtable as an issue needing review.
“When the noise ordinance was rewritten … and the standard went from ‘not objectionable to a reasonable person’ to ‘audible at [100 feet] from the property line’ … The definition of ‘audible’ is different for each individual, so some of the farm wineries are seeking a more specific standard, like a certain decibel level,” Williamson said in an interview.
Albemarle’s farm winery regulations were changed in response to state legislation passed in 2007 that limited local government’s ability to regulate the industry. When the Albemarle Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance changes in May, local wineries gained the ability to hold an unlimited number of special events and to host larger groups.
Keswick resident Bert Page said amplified music coming from weddings at Keswick Vineyards over the past several months was impacting his quality of life. He called for full enforcement of the noise ordinance to create a deterrent.
“These activities have had a shattering effect on the very essence of our existence,” Page said. “We have been left not knowing from day to day what might happen the next weekend and how loud things might get.”
Al Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards, said after the roundtable that his business had taken steps to address his neighbors’ concerns.
“We had a professional sound engineer do testing at various distances,” Schornberg said. “We have done a lot to abate the sound with curtains and acoustical materials. The noise we make now does not exceed the ambient noise levels.”
Charlotte Shelton, owner of North Garden’s
, said she thought the feedback from some citizens represented a small problem in the county overall.
“Most wineries are not experiencing this issue,” Shelton said in an interview. “To imply that every winery is having wall-to-wall events is making a mountain out of a mole hill, and that’s unfortunate.”
Carrie Hannon, general manager of King Family Vineyards, said she was very pleased with the process the county is taking to gather input from local wineries.
“The county has done a really good job by having these work sessions to get an understanding of what the wineries are trying to do,” Hannon said in an interview. “We have reached a really good understanding with the supervisors and the staff. We are all on the same page finally.”
Patrick Cushing, director of the Virginia Wine Council, said Albemarle was one of the three largest wine-producing counties in Virginia and it was being looked at as a leader with respect to the new ordinances.
“It is appropriate to find a balance between neighbors and wineries,” Cushing said. “Tantamount to that is getting an objective [noise] standard on the table so a winery can be proactive.”
Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner pointed out that one reason the county chose not to rely on a specific decibel level and noise meters for enforcement related to the difficulty of using them in the countryside, particularly at night.
“If it is going to be enforced by the police, and measured from the property line, to go out at any time of day and particularly at night and locate the property line was seen to be problematic,” Kamptner said.
The Albemarle supervisors are expected to decide whether to study the ordinance further at their first meeting in January. The Planning Commission has tentatively scheduled a work session on the matter for Jan. 18.