Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Legislate in haste...

The good news is that the Virginia General Assembly is a part time legislature. The bad news is senators and delegates have little time to thoughtfully consider the consequences of the deluge of bills before casting ballots.

One of these, SB430, sponsored by Senator John Watkins of Powhatan, creates something called a farm brewery license that exempts those enterprises from any local zoning control.

The Goochland Board of Supervisors—which fully supports regulatory parity between farm breweries and farm wineries, the purported purpose of SB430-- believes that this bill prohibits local zoning authority over roads, parking, large crowd permits, and the ability to mitigate harm to neighboring property.

At its Tuesday, February 4 meeting, the Board unanimously approved a resolution stating its opposition to the portions of SB430 that prohibit the county from exercising its authority to regulate land use matters in its jurisdiction.

Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 said that, while this bill was clearly written to address a specific brewery located in Goochland, its impact is statewide. He said that this board has been proactive in its support of farm breweries, including granting a waiver for a paving requirement to allow the local brewery to open on schedule.

Board vice Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1, contended that the most egregious part of the bill is its elimination of citizen right to have input on local land use matters.

Bob Minnick, District 4, said it is one thing for a locality to exercise its zoning regulations, but completely different when the public is excised from any discussion of how their land use will be regulated and that call is passed to Richmond. All flexibility in the matter, the ability to negotiate and ameliorate, and all public input is gone. Activities like this can go on essentially unrestrained, he contended.

In its current form, the hands of the county would be tied to address public safety, including turn lanes, crowd control, and protecting public safety in general, explained County Attorney Norman Sales. He also said that, in its current form, SB430 invites litigation.

As written, SB430—whose purpose is supposedly to encourage farm breweries—offers some interesting prospects. For instance, both Dover Hall and the Adams International School could have simply planted some barley and hops, installed brewing equipment, and acquired a farm brewery license rather than apply for conditional use permits to become event venues. As long as they kept the noise level down, they could operate without restrictions on size and number of events, parking, traffic control, or any of the other zoning restraints imposed by the county.

In fact, South Ceres Farm on Broad Street Road in Oilville, which is owned by Douglas and Tamra Adams, would be a great site for a farm brewery. It has lots of land, good road access, and would benefit from Douglas Adams’ knowledge of the wine industry. No CUP would be needed to do pretty much whatever they chose on every square inch of the property. As written, SB430 does not limit consumption of alcohol to a specific place on a farm brewery property.

Any land in Virginia zoned agricultural, including that in residential subdivisions, could obtain a farm brewery license and host hoards of visitors regardless of traffic impact.

Local control of land use regulations is a vital mechanism to enable orderly and mutually beneficial growth. Removal of that control will invite chaos and clash between neighbors, and fail to protect the health, welfare and safety of all.

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