By. Neil Williamson, President
Last week (2/16) the Albemarle County Planning Commission held a work session on the revised Farm Wineries ordinance. While the Free Enterprise Forum was highly critical of the concept of regulating the industry (see Albemarle’s Agricultural Angst post), this proposal has improved dramatically with age. The Albemarle County wineries are to be commended for productively engaging with staff and planning commissioners regarding their concerns with the proposal.
Recognizing that Albemarle County is in the heart of the richest appellation in the state, the Monticello Wine Trail, and that winery events are an important revenue stream to keep land in agriculture, the Planning Department staff listened to the concerns of the industry regarding the previous draft ordinance.
The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with the philosophical underpinnings of this decision. Staff correctly identified the Comprehensive Plan’s primary purpose of the rural areas is to be supportive of agriculture. Staff also concluded that winery weddings with under 200 persons attending are usual and customary for farm wineries in the Commonwealth.
Staff believes wineries will seek a single special use permit for all weddings exceeding 200 persons. Such a special use permit will come before the Planning Commission for approval. One of the factors for consideration of approval is the frequency of such events.
The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe this should be a decision point. If a facility is suited to handled in excess of 200 persons, that same physical plant will be able to do so on a regular basis. The frequency consideration should be dropped from the special use consideration. In addition, the enforcement of such frequency conditions will be problematic at best.
Despite this rather technical disagreement with the Special Use portion of the ordinance, the Free Enterprise Forum finds the revised ordinance to be dramatically more winery (and agra-tourism) friendly and applauds the changes that have been made.
The ordinance will go to Public Hearing at the Planning Commission in March.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org