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Wineries -- Striking the Right Balance
Wineries. I'm sure you've noticed a few more of them around. Since 2002, Fauquier County has become home to 23 new wineries, bringing the total number in the county to 26.
Throughout the Commonwealth, wineries have become an increasingly important part of the rural economy. Visiting wineries can also be a fun way for city and suburban dwellers (even rural residents) to enjoy the spectacular beauty and bounty of the Virginia Piedmont. Here at PEC, we promote many of the region's wineries in our Buy Fresh Buy Local guide, and we do our best to use local wine at our fundraisers and events.
That said, as with any rural land use, wineries come with direct impacts to the land and the surrounding community. It is our belief that those impacts should be looked at carefully and that local government should be able to set reasonable limits based on traffic, safety, noise, runoff, and impacts to nearby residents.
Fauquier's Approach to Wineries Up for Comment
Many years ago, Oasis Winery tested the limits of Fauquier's zoning by hosting huge special events -- prompting battles with neighbors and Fauquier officials over noise and traffic. When Fauquier attempted to enforce limitations set out in their existing farm winery ordinance, the wine industry went to Richmond and asked that counties no longer be able to regulate their operations, pointing to Fauquier as a bad actor.
In 2007, the General Assembly, under pressure from the winery trade associations, intervened and enacted legislation stating that counties can no longer restrict on-site sale, tasting, or consumption of wine or the "usual and customary" activities and events at wineries unless there is a substantial impact on the public's health, safety, and welfare. As you might imagine, what is "usual and customary" varies from area to area.
Right now, Fauquier County is working on a new winery ordinance that it believes will achieve the balance between a variety of legitimate interests---promoting the production of locally-made wines with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public and protecting the adjacent landowners' expectations of their investment and enjoyment in their properties. To read the proposed ordinance and the County's information, go to:
Our Recommended Changes to the Draft Ordinance
At a public input session last week, I made a number of comments about the ordinance Fauquier is considering adopting. There were four things in particular we believe should be changed:
I also put forward questions the county should consider such as how will the noise provision be enforced after hours (will the adjacent landowner rely on the police?), will any wineries be grandfathered, and how would this ordinance apply to other rural uses with high impacts. In all, the County has submitted a much-improved ordinance but is not there yet in order to truly strike that balance between a multitude of legitimate competing interests.
The County will be accepting public comment on the ordinance up until their next meeting, July 12th, where a vote is expected. However we've heard that county staff are working on text changes now. If you are concerned about how the county proceeds, submit your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible and attend the public hearing on the 12th at 6:30pm at the Warren Green Building in Warrenton.
Getting a revised ordinance passed in Fauquier is only part of the broader debate in the Piedmont region. So stayed tuned and take advantage of the opportunity to participate.
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