Revamped regulations: County hears proposed wedding ordinance

Albemarle County staff would like to impose new regulations on weddings at local farm wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. Photo by Aaron Watson Albemarle County staff would like to impose new regulations on weddings at local farm wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. Photo by Aaron Watson

At a heavily attended June work session, which C-VILLE referred to as a “war on weddings,” the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and planning commissioners discussed proposed regulations for events at farm wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. Though the county’s Planning Commission has yet to vote on these changes, the topic was debated at its September 13 meeting. And, once again, plenty of concerned citizens showed up primed for battle.

Senior planner Mandy Burbage presented the staff report, which followed up on several topics from June, such as a traffic management plan for events with more than 200 people, a curfew for outdoor amplified music, a one-time neighbor notification at the time of the zoning clearance and a minimum road standard for event eligibility.

Burbage says the latter was the “stickiest.”

Though several residents spoke out about the dangers of increased traffic on the county’s narrow, winding roads, on which these farms are often nestled, Burbage says staff can’t enforce any regulations without proof of a substantial impact on public health and welfare.

Through an analysis by the Albemarle County Police Department, staff has concluded that there’s no correlation between traffic accidents and events at those types of venues. So, according to Burbage, a minimum road standard is no longer on the table.

Monique Pritchard, who lives in the White Hall district, was the first to speak at the meeting. And she’s not buying that traffic from weddings and other events doesn’t pose a threat.

“Allowing event-goers or winery patrons to drive our back roads is a significant safety hazard for everyone involved,” she said.

Amplified music is another problem, she said. “I cannot think of a greater nuisance than blaring music at all hours of the day from an alleged winery next door.”

Bill Pritchard, speaking next, didn’t mince words: “Wineries don’t need outdoor amplified music to grow grapes.”

Staff recommended cutting the amplified music at 10pm for events, but after some discussion with the commissioners, they decided on an 11pm curfew.

At the previous meeting, several industry professionals talked about how their jobs depend on Charlottesville and Albemarle being a destination wedding hub, and some farm representatives said they use their spaces as event venues to help make ends meet. Potter’s Craft Cider-maker Tim Edmond spoke about the concept of grandfathering at the most recent meeting.

Potter’s, in Free Union, doesn’t yet have a tasting room or a space to host events, but that doesn’t mean its owners aren’t planning to in the future.

“We don’t want the rules to change in the middle of the game,” he said. “We don’t want to have to change what we’re doing.”

The proposed ordinance requires farms that host events to grow five acres of the crop that goes into their product, as well as ferment and bottle onsite, and have a tasting room with regular hours.

The next public hearing on the topic is set for November 1.

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