Albemarle planners reiterate preference for police enforcement of loud music from wineries
By Brian Wheeler
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The Albemarle County Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend that the police department enforce violations of the county’s noise ordinance stemming from events held at farm wineries.
The move comes after strong signals were sent by the Albemarle supervisors that they were expecting a different outcome.
Duane Zobrist (second from right)
Chair, Albemarle County Planning Commission
The action would make excessive outdoor amplified subject to a criminal misdemeanor fine. If approved by the supervisors, the changes would require the police to determine if the music is audible 100 feet from a vineyard’s property line or within a neighbor’s building.
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Some neighbors near one local vineyard have lobbied the county for better enforcement of noise regulations. The wineries and Albemarle County staff recommended a decibel-based standard for measuring noise from events such as weddings with enforcement handled by the zoning department.
Duane Zobrist, chairman of the Planning Commission, said he had become more convinced that the commission’s 4-3 vote last month, which said excessive outdoor amplified music should be a criminal offense enforced by the police, was the right solution.
“I have been speaking to several members of the Board of Supervisors,” Zobrist said. “I am convinced the board wants a decibel standard, but the more I listen, the more I am persuaded that what we did at the last meeting is correct.”
However, Amelia McCulley, Albemarle’s director of zoning, told the commission that county staff had learned a lot about noise ordinances in the course of the staff’s review. She said a new approach would help wineries regulate themselves and avoid placing an undue burden on an understaffed police department.
“A decibel standard will better allow wineries to avoid violations,” McCulley said. “Staff continues to recommend a decibel-based ordinance enforced by zoning.”
“In retrospect, if we had it to do over … we would move more quickly in terms of a violation,” added McCulley. “Based on what we have learned, we would go more quickly to an injunction in order to get compliance.”
Interactive timeline of Albemarle's review of farm winery regulations
Albemarle police Lt. Ernie Allen said the county had about 700 noise calls in 2010. Only 13 of those resulted in a summons being issued. He said the audibility standard, where an officer listens for noise without a sound meter, had worked successfully.
Several residents spoke at the public hearing and called for Albemarle to stick to its audibility standard and add police enforcement.
“Last fall the quiet enjoyment of our farm was interrupted,” said Elizabeth Page, who lives next to Keswick Vineyards. “We would appreciate anything at all that can prevent this abusive behavior in the future.”
Kathleen Jump told the commission she had spent most of the last decade living next to an Albemarle winery. She said the noise near her property was only addressed after it was moved into a new building.
“I support the audibility standard, which I believe would be most stringent. Amplified music belongs in a structure,” Jump said. “Living next to a winery is a little like living next to an elephant, and every small movement has a big impact on its neighbors.”
However, Patrick Cushing, director of the Virginia Wine Council, said amplified outdoor music is a key component of weddings and he called for a measurable decibel standard.
“In Virginia, our wineries rely on the foot traffic … so the more people they bring on site, the more wine they can sell,” Cushing said. “Wineries are a major driver of economic activity. When looking at this ordinance, we support a decibel-based ordinance. It is imperative that these wineries have the ability to self-regulate.”
Greg Kamptner, Albemarle’s deputy county attorney, wrote in a memo to the Planning Commission that only one county winery has generated complaints since the current noise regulations were adopted last May.
“[T]he regulations appear to be working as intended, with one notable exception — the sound produced from outdoor amplified music during wedding receptions at a single farm winery — Keswick Vineyards,” Kamptner wrote.
The commission’s vote was 4-3 with Commissioners Don Franco, Mac Lafferty and Tom Loach voting against. The recommendation will be considered by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting March 9.
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