Sunday, August 11, 2013

Theory versus reality

Goochland’s supervisors began their August 6 monthly meeting with a morning workshop on zoning law revisions and economic development. They ended the day, more than twelve hours later, grappling with a plan of development waiver request that illustrated the real world wrinkles of placing a business in a rural area.

In the morning Economic Development Director Matt Ryan discussed agribusiness. If Goochland is truly committed to preserving rural character--whatever that is--folks must be able to generate income from their land lest it be planted in houses.

Agribusiness is a broad term that includes farm markets, wineries, microbreweries, and so forth. Goochland already has a few things that fall into that category and Ryan contended that the county should create some sort of rural economic development committee to expand and encourage those opportunities.

The tale of Lisa and Sean Pumphrey’s Licking Hole Creek Craft Brewery, located at the end of Knolls Point Drive, a private thoroughfare off of Chapel Hill Road, is a case in point. This enterprise, which blends the virtues of agriculture with the ancient craft of brewing beer, is precisely the sort of business to preserve and enhance undeveloped areas.

In late 2011 the Pumphreys initiated a county zoning ordinance amendment to allow microbreweries, defined as producing up to 15,000 barrels of beer per year, as a by right use on 50 or more acres of land. Past and present boards embraced their suggestion and county law was changed in early 2012.

Planning to grow hops, barley, and other beer ingredients on their 221 acres, they expected a few visitors to tour their operation and taste their product, which would be trucked offsite to market.

Initially, the neighbors along Knolls Point Drive seemed to embrace the notion of a brewery in their midst. The shared gravel road, Knolls Point Drive that provides the only access to the Pumphrey property was never mentioned.

In July 2012 the state expanded privileges granted to microbreweries allowing consumption and sale of beer on site. According to Goochland County Administrator Rebecca Dickson, this use was never contemplated when the county zoning ordinance was changed or the Pumphreys created their brewery.

The Pumphreys, decided to take advantage of the new rules and use Licking Hole Craft Brewery to sell beer, give tours, and host events that could accommodate up to 249 people. To that end, they filed a plan of development with the county. When the county required that they pave about three quarters of a mile of road and their parking lot, they requested a waiver contending that a gravel road is more appropriate for a rural area than paving, which is an expensive proposition.

The neighbors who use Knolls Point Drive to access their homes objected to the waiver. Indeed, some of them spoke during the supervisors’ citizen comment period a few months ago to complain about the increased intensity of use of the property. On August 6, their representative told the supervisors that the neighbors’ main concern is the noise and dust generated by heavy use of the road. Paving would mitigate those problems.

Clearly uncomfortable in the role of referee, the Board sought middle ground on the matter and a way to let the Pumphreys hold a grand opening at the end of August. After almost three hours of consensus building, the Supervisors voted 4-1, with Susan Lascolette District 1 in dissent, to grant an 18 month waiver on the paving requirement. If the road has not been paved at that time, the mater will be reopened.

In return for the waiver, the Pumphreys accepted conditions that limit hours of operation for public visitation; large crowd event permits to three for the remainder of 2013 and only five annually thereafter. They must also and keeping the road wet to contain dust in dry weather and install signage to direct brewery traffic away from existing homes.

The Pumphreys asked for at least 40 public hours per week to qualify for VDOT signage on Interstate 64. The supervisors’ conditions require that no public hours be held on Sunday and Monday but they are extended to nine p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sean Pumphrey explained that staying open later in the evening accommodates after work visits.

Board Chair Ken Peterson District 5 observed that the 18 month waiver gives the Pumphreys a chance to get the business off the ground and generate revenue to fund paving. Hope that the Pumphreys and the neighbors can reconcile their differences was also expressed.

If the Pumphreys decided to pave the road in the meantime, the conditions no longer apply.

The Pumphreys have made a considerable investment in the Licking Hole Creek Craft Brewery. Information in the July 13, 2013 waiver application (included in the August 6 board packet available on the county website at indicates that the enterprise is the result of a carefully conceived and executed business plan. Comments made during the waiver consideration, seemed to suggest that the cost of paving the road was not included in the calculations.

Did the county wait until the last minute to spring the paving requirement on the Pumphreys? If so, the policy needs to be changed so that business owners know up front what will be required of them so they can plan accordingly.

If the Pumphreys assumed that they could ignore the paving requirement because they’d made a significant investment in the county the supervisors were very generous in granting the waiver.

Paving requirements have vexed many operations and sometimes seem to lack consistency in their application. This needs to stop.

Perhaps zoning ordinances in rural areas should require businesses to have direct, exclusive access to a state maintained road regardless of paving requirements to protect neighbors from unintended consequences of success. Clear rules simplify things for all concerned.

Goochland is blessed by people who come here to follow their dreams and invest their money. God willing more enterprises that extol the virtues of rural life yet sit gently on the land will bloom from our red clay.

In the meantime, the supervisors must ensure balance between newcomers eager to invest and change the landscape and those already here. All must receive fair governance.









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