Battle for a brewery: County planning commission rejects growth amendment

The Board of Supervisors could vote to adjust the comprehensive plan boundary at the September 9 meeting. The Board of Supervisors could vote to adjust the comprehensive plan boundary at the September 9 meeting.

After the Albemarle Planning Commission unanimously said no way to expanding the growth area at the Interstate 64 and U.S. 29 interchange August 18, the lines have been drawn between those who are shocked the county is hastily trying to amend its comprehensive plan to attract a West Coast brewery, and those astounded at what they call the “anti-strategic growth” sentiment at the meeting, especially when it comes to beer.

Albemarle economic development director Faith McClintic is pushing for the amendment to add 223 acres just south of I-64 with the blessing of a Board of Supervisors’ letter of intent. She says she can’t name the company, but in a call to Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, spokesperson Marie Melsheimer confirmed the company was looking at Charlottesville, along with two other locations.

Businessman Jerry Miller thinks that’s a great idea. “We as a county have the ability to create a beer trail like Nelson,” he says. Not only would that bring in tax and tourist revenue, he says, but he believes for his 30-something demographic, “having a beer trail would improve the quality of life.”

He points to Asheville, North Carolina, which has become a beer mecca as the result of a “fabulous nucleus of breweries down there,” says Miller. And according to media reports, Asheville is one of the locations Deschutes is considering. “The planning commission is not hearing opportunity knock,” says Miller.

Former supervisor Sally Thomas represented the Samuel Miller District from 1993 to 2009, and she’s seeing a way of doing business that simply wasn’t done during her tenure on the Board of Supervisors, when the board was more concerned with keeping growth in check than luring out-of-state businesses.

“In the game of economic development, we’re shocked by the things Faith McClintic says are quite common in communities determined to bring new businesses,” says Thomas. While Albemarle always extracted proffers from developers to help pay for infrastructure costs, in other areas, taxpayers are paying for utility extensions like the one that will be needed to get water and sewer to the land Deschutes is eying.

Thomas says she encouraged the planning commission “not to be guilted into” voting for the amendment for fear of being accused of not being supportive of economic development.

Certainly the resounding rejection by the planning commission was not a happy omen for McClintic. “I would be kidding myself and others—it hurts us as a community for this project and it hurts us for other companies sitting on the sidelines,” she says. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say after a work session September 2 and public hearing September 9—although even if the amendment is approved, the property will still have to be rezoned, “another lengthy process,” she says.

McClintic refuses to divulge the economic incentives being used to attract Deschutes, but if the supes approve the amendment, she says they’ll also have to OK a proposal letter of incentives, which will become public at that time. Whatever Albemarle and the state offer up, she says, will be contingent on the number of jobs the brewery would create, the wage level and the amount of capital improvement.

“Most places are offering incentives but that’s not the primary factor for us,” says Deschutes’ Melsheimer. “We’re just looking for some place comparable to our location in Bend.”