By. Neil Williamson, President [Please see information on the Annual Chamber-Free Enterprise Luncheon at the end of this post]
Did you know Albemarle County produced the most wine grapes in the state, over 1,000 tons in 2006 (the last year available)?
Did you know over 500 acres in Albemarle is dedicated to vineyard operations (and wineries)?
Did you know the Monticello Wine Trail is one of the oldest and most populated wine trails in the state?
In this week’s (9/15) Albemarle County Planing Commission meeting, county staff estimated the vineyards and wineries were a $2.2 million dollar industry in Albemarle County.
So based on the above, how is Albemarle County planning to celebrate October as Virginia Wine Month? — By regulating it.
As this is harvest, the local wineries are now literally up to their elbows in grapes. During a recent break on the crush pad, one local vintner questioned Albemarle County’s intent. “Why don’t they want me to succeed?”, she asked.
Utilizing their adroit legal department, Albemarle (and Fauquier) believe they have found a way around the General Assembly’s action designed to keep local governments out of the vineyards.
The state legislature anticipated the kind of conflict between local government and the wineries and sided with the wineries when it recognized the importance of Farm Wineries with the passage of Virginia Code 15.2-2288.3 Licensed farm wineries; local regulation of certain activities.
“Usual and customary activities at farm wineries shall be permitted without local regulation unless there is a significant impact on the health, safety, or welfare of the public.”
Based on our review of the publicly available documents, the Free Enterprise Forum does not believe Albemarle County (or Fauquier) has the legislative authority to enact the farm winery regulations currently under discussion. Both the language and the intent of the General Assembly are clear.
Despite clear legislative intent, staff is brining new regulations to the Albemarle County Planning Commission in late October or November.
Agricultural Angst: What does Albemarle County have against Farm Stands?
In their first meeting of September, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors acknowledged an issue regarding produce stands in the rural areas. Sean Tubbs from Charlottesville Tomorrow has the full story here. Mr. Tubbs reports:
For the past nine years, Albemarle County farmer Nathan Yoder has sold produce on Thursday afternoons at a stand at the corner of Free Union Road and Garth Road. Someone complained to County’s zoning officials about the stand, triggering an investigation. While Yoder has permission from the property owner, technically he is violating the zoning code because he does not own the land on which he’s selling his goods. The County is allowing him to continue operations through the end of this season.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Bob Rash asked the Albemarle County Board a series of pointed questions regarding government regulation of the farm stands. He felt strongly that these farm stands are a critical distribution point for the rural enterprises they support. Another local farmer told the Free Enterprise Forum he planned to give some of his tomatoes to the farm stand that was operating on his land. He believed if the farm stand was acting as his agent for the tomatoes they could also sell their own produce on his property without unnecessary government interference. The Board has promised to examine and resolve the issue prior to the Spring growing season.
Considering the time and money Albemarle County has put into its land use revalidation program, one would think they would be more supportive of the farms that make up Albemarle’s rural economy.
Next Thursday, The Free Enterprise Forum and The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring our annual luncheon. This year’s topic is agribusiness “Making it:the business of Agriculture in Central Virginia”. An expert panel including Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Todd Haymore, “Welcome to The Country” Author and orchard owner Frank Levering and Jefferson Vineyards General Manager Chad Zakaib will discuss these and other agribusiness issues. The panel will be moderated by Valerie Long of Williams Mullen. The luncheon will be held at Farmington Country Club and starts at 11:30 am. You can register online by clicking here, or call Danielle 434.295.3141 ext. 140.