Supervisors adopt decibel standard for outdoor music at area wineries
By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to implement a measurable decibel standard for controlling outdoor amplified music at area wineries. The action is a victory for the local farm winery industry and overturns a recent recommendation from the planning commission.
Forty people spoke during a public hearing Wednesday which saw winery owners and supporters pleading with the county for an objective standard that they could self-police to maintain good relations with their neighbors. However, residents next door to Keswick Vineyards continued to argue for police enforcement of the existing “audibility standard.”
That current “audibility standard” states that music played at weddings and other events should not be “audible” 100 feet over the winery’s property line. Neighbors said police need to be involved since the zoning department is not open for business when most of the wedding events occur.
The Planning Commission voted 4-3 on March 1 to recommend that the neighbors’ view go forward as county policy. Chairman Duane Zobrist said he had become convinced during a long review process that the audible standard would best protect adjacent property owners.
However, staff recommended a measurable decibel standard be used because it would be more objective. Music that is louder than 60 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night would be a civil violation and would carry a fine.
“Audibility is a more restrictive measurement,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s director of zoning. “We’ve already established a reasonable community sound standard for the rural and residential districts.”
McCulley said if a complaint were filed under the new policy, zoning staff would make themselves available to attend the next scheduled event to take readings with sound equipment.
“If they are in excess, we would inform the winery and make them turn the music down,” McCulley said. If they did not comply, the county would seek an injunction in general court.
However, Keswick Vineyards’ neighbor Bert Page was adamant that the county continue with the audible standard.
"If they want to shift to a decibel standard, my wife and I offer our farm to the county for the purpose of conducting tests to determine if a decibel system can be applied to our situation," Page said.
Police Chief Steven Sellers told the board that he felt zoning inspectors should continue to handle complaints because his department cannot take on new burdens.
“We already have a thinly stretched police department,” Sellers said. He said winery events, which generally take place on Saturdays, occur during one of the police department’s busiest times.
Philip Strother, attorney for Keswick Vineyard owners Al and Cindy Schornberg, said the planning commission’s recommendation would set the county up for a potential lawsuit.
“We’re suggesting to you tonight that the audibility standard is unenforceable and vague and is subject to constitutional challenge,” Strother said. “What one person can hear, someone else may not be able to.”
Art and Lee Beltrone live next door to Keswick Vineyards, and both spoke in favor of retaining the audible standard.
“We are not opposed to farm wineries,” said Lee Beltrone. “We are opposed to outdoor music at farm wineries if it disrupts the peace and tranquility.”
Art Beltrone said a complaint he filed with the zoning department during an October 23 wedding was not registered by the county until this week.
John Henry Jordan lives 2,000 feet from the Schornberg’s property line and also spoke in favor of retaining the audible standard.
“Why is it that those of us who have lived in this county for a long time have to suffer because of one business?” Jordan asked.
“I see both sides of the issue,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd once the public hearing concluded. “[But] I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way we can have a good ordinance is if we go with a decibel standard and I’m convinced based on testimony [of Police Chief Sellers] that the only way to enforce it is through zoning.”
Boyd suggested the zoning department be on hand at future events at Keswick Vineyards to make sure they are in compliance with the new rules. McCulley said her department would be prepared to do so.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he supported the decibel standard, but that a balance had to be struck.
“We have to keep in mind that people move into rural areas to have peace and quiet,” Rooker said. “Is 55 decibels and 60 decibels the right standard? I think we can suggest that and adopt an ordinance and determine over some test period of time whether that’s providing the appropriate balance.”
“We’re elated they made the right decision and we are happy to have this ordinance in place,” said Schornberg.
Though Keswick Vineyards has 16 events currently scheduled for this year, they are not yet allowed to hold events with outdoor amplified music until Judge Cheryl Higgins lifts an injunction against them.
The first event is scheduled for May 2, but Schornberg said the wedding is a small one that does not require amplified music
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