Good Ordinances Make Good Neighbors

By Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County is currently considering revisions to its farm winery ordinance regarding “outdoor, amplified, music” and the metrics used to measure the impact of such music on neighboring parcels. The current ordinance language, in the zoning code, is the “audible” standard 100 feet off the property line. The wineries (and county staff) have recommended using a decibel level rather than the audible standard.

In Robert Frost’s 1914 poem “Mending Wall”, the poem’s speaker critically examines the need for the stone wall between his neighbor’s pine forest and his apple orchard. He questions the need for the wall as there are not cows on either property.  Interestingly, it is not the neighbor, who seems to belive most strongly in the fence, but the speaker who initiates the Spring ritual of fence mending.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

To some literary critics, this poem highlights the concept that the individual identity of each property is dependent on their mutual respect for boundaries. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the clarity of the bounds of the property is critical, as is the joint responsibility for maintaining those bounds.

One New England winery, Nashoba Valley Winery, does a number of weddings and special events explains their compact with their neighbors:

Our neighbors allowed us to build our wonderful garden pavilion based on a contract of trust and respect.  We are totally committed to preserving the integrity of our operations and the rights of our neighbors to peacefully enjoy their property and the rural nature of our community. 

While music is a very important aspect of your wedding or reception, the determination of acceptable levels of music, announcements and noise is at the sole and exclusive discretion of Nashoba Valley Spirits, Ltd.  Carefully selected, your music will create the atmosphere that makes the event unique.  

We have hosted hundreds of weddings and functions and while there have been situations where we have asked a DJ or musicians to lower the volume, the level that we ask to be maintained is at a level that most people would agree is very acceptable. …..

No  noise, music or announcements, will be allowed to exceed 85 decibels at the source.  The intensity of sound is measured in decibels. Normal conversation has a  level of approximately 60 decibels and a lawnmower emits noise of about 85bB..

While their methodology of sound measurement (at the source) is different than that proposed in Albemarle, it is a clear objective metric that is enforceable.  Without such delineation (not unlike a fence between two parcels) either property owner may erroneously believe an encroachment has occurred.

In the end of Frost’s poem, the poem’s speaker still questions the function of the wall but seems to recognize and respect his neighbor’s firm belief in the wall and what it stands for:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the clear objective decibel standards (supported by staff)  will provide certainty to the neighbors, the property owner, the enforcement official and to the bride (whose family signed a contract for the event). 

With apologies to Robert Frost, good ordinances make good neighbors. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson 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, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website



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