By. Neil Williamson, President
Weddings should be celebrated. Regardless of the ceremony or the participants weddings are a joyful time that from a public policy perspective generate significant economic activity absent the demand for significant public services (school, fire, police). Last week, Albemarle County considered an “Indecent Proposal” that would have drastically limiting the frequency of events on rural lands (95% of the county).
Please let me explain.
Last Tuesday evening, a rare joint meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors heard a great deal from both wedding venues and the vendors that support them. Albemarle staff had prepared a proposed ordinance that, among other things, would limit the ability of wineries, breweries and distilleries to 24 events a year. In the end the supervisors backed away from the most restrictive portion of the ‘indecent proposal’.
The testimony Tuesday was insightful and passionate. Wedding Photographer Jen Fariello asked pointedly “Why are weddings being attacked?” Wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves [name correction 9:01 6/20 nw] told of one recent wedding whose local fiscal impact exceeded $250,000 musicians, gift packs, invitations, transportation, jewelry, photographer, etc.
During the discussion, I unscientifically developed a simple back of the envelope calculation regarding local wedding annual economic impact:
$10,000 wedding cost (likely low)
50% of 200 guests are from out of town 1 hotel night stay ($150) + meals ($100)
$10,000+[(200/2)*$250] = $35,000
If we factor in 20 Saturdays in wedding season and 75 wedding venues a VERY conservative wedding economic impact is $52,500,000
Anna Quillen of a transportation company explained the impact was significantly larger than just the venues; her job (and her employee) are interdependent on the wedding industry. Charlotte Shelton of Albemarle Ciderworks expressed her concern that small enterprises need event revenue to be economically viable. Sarah Henley of Henley Orchards explained that events help keep farms sustainable and in family ownership.
There were also a number of rural landowners who were concerned with the potential proliferation of event venues across the rural landscape. One Free Union resident suggested “Don’t overlook the economic value of the family farm in this community”.
After about an hour and a half of testimony the issue came back to the joint work session for discussion.
Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested creating an objective sliding scale grading system for scoring a potential event venue for evaluation. Commissioner ‘Mac’ Lafferty suggested requiring such a scale might create “a chilling effect” on the expansion of wedding venues in Albemarle County.
Supervisor Norman Dill indicated his concern that “So many of these rules will limit creativity”. Dill also said setting a cap for the number of events for only new entrants is unfair.
The group also discussed the concern worried about unintended consequences of mandating paved roads in rural areas where neighbors don’t want their roads paved.
Supervisor Brad Sheffield asked directly if the wineries are doing such a good job self policing, is this a solution in search of a problem.
The result of the work session was to move forward with an ordinance that more directly ties the event space to the agricultural use on the property but would not limit the number of events a parcel could hold. Additional consideration regarding amplified music and set backs will also be a part of the draft ordinance. Staff hopes to bring such an ordinance to stakeholders late this summer and the Planning Commission in early fall.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes this long (4 hour) work session format was helpful. Absent the Supervisors’ direct input, we believe the event control portion of the indecent staff proposal would have moved forward.
We are hopefully optimistic that the latest controls being discussed don’t hinder this vibrant rural economic engine that is helping to keep rural Albemarle economically and environmentally sustainable.
The revised proposal has been made, however the key question remains — will Albemarle say “I do” — that’s the $52.5 million dollar question.
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.
Photo Credits: Aaron Watson Photography, Keswick Vineyards, Albemarle Ciderworks, Celestial Sights Photography, Jack Looney Photography.