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September 29, 2011

Audio & Video of Albemarle Supervisor candidate forum - Rivanna District

2011-election-DPx476On September 28, 2011, Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-sponsored a candidate forum for the two candidates running for the Rivanna District seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
 
Local residents came to the Hollymead Elementary School to hear the candidates respond to questions posed by the moderator, the audience, and each other.  Read this article for complete coverage by The Daily Progress.


Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110928-Rivanna-Forum

The candidate forum participants
  • Kenneth C. Boyd (R)
  • Cynthia Neff (D)
  • Brian Wheeler, Moderator

20110928-rivanna-shurtleff Photo: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress
Used with permission

Watch the forum video

0:03:48 -- OPENING STATEMENTS

0:10:00 -- QUICK RESPONSE TOPICS

 Water plan
As the primary approach for adding to our long term water supply, do you favor dredging and water conservation before construction of a new or taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, YES or NO?

 Western Bypass
Do you support construction of the 6.2 mile Western Bypass as currently proposed for U.S. Route 29, YES or NO?

 Property Taxes
Will you consider raising the real estate property tax rate in the next county budget to invest in capital funding priorities, YES or NO?

SEVEN MODERATOR QUESTION TOPICS

0:12:10 -- Economic Vitality Plan
What role should local government play to stimulate economic vitality?  Do you support Albemarle’s economic vitality plan and are there areas you recommend for improvement?

0:15:35 -- City-County-UVA relations
How should the city, county and the University of Virginia work together to enhance our community’s unique character and economic vitality?

0:18:55 -- Western Bypass
Do you believe the Western Bypass project is consistent with the character of our community and the public’s vision for transportation in Albemarle County?

0:22:44 -- Growth area boundary adjustments and/or expansions
Should the board consider boundary adjustments for Albemarle County’s designated growth areas to create new locations for business on land currently zoned as rural areas?  Does it matter if the land is in the watershed of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir?

0:27:20 -- Education
Albemarle County’s vision statement calls for a “world class” public education system.  What does that mean to you and how will you support that goal?

0:30:38 -- Your priorities
What is your top priority for action by the board of supervisors if you are elected?

0:33:46 -- Your qualifications for Board of Supervisors
Please describe your past experience that qualifies you to be on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

0:37:20 -- AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

1:00:54 -- CANDIDATES ASK EACH OTHER QUESTIONS

1:10:40 -- CLOSING STATEMENTS

 

March 09, 2011

Supervisors adopt decibel standard for outdoor music at area wineries

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
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. 

Farm Wineries on Dipity.

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.

20110309-Sellers
Albemarle County Police Chief Steven Sellers

"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.”

20110309-Bert-Page
Bert Page lives adjacent to Keswick Vineyards

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.

20110309-Cindy-Schornberg
Keswick Vineyards co-owner Cindy Schornberg appeals for a decibel-based standard

“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



March 01, 2011

Albemarle planners reiterate preference for police enforcement of loud music from wineries

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
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.

20110301-CoPC1
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.


Listen using player above or download the podcast:Download 20110301-Wineries-noise

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

Farm Wineries on Dipity.


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.”

20110301-farm-wineries-noise

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.

 

February 09, 2011

Albemarle may seek police enforcement for loud music from farm winery events

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
 
A divided Albemarle County Planning Commission voted Tuesday to get out of the business of patrolling wedding noise at farm wineries. The action would change excessive outdoor amplified music from a zoning violation to a criminal act enforced by the police.

Some neighbors near one local vineyard have lobbied the county for better enforcement of noise regulations. The wineries, and some members of the commission, have said they would prefer an objective noise standard establishing specific decibel levels for music.


Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110209-Wineries-noise

Bert Page, who lives next to Keswick Vineyards, has complained to the county about noise from several weddings.

“I was particularly pleased with the outcome,” Page said in an interview. “We have nothing against wine, weddings, or music, and we have no concern over what our neighbors are doing, so long as we don’t have to listen to it.”

“The county is interested in supporting businesses and generating income for the county, I understand that,” Page added. “It’s a noble effort, but there are ways to do that, and ways not to do that.”


20110208-CoPC
The commission’s proposal would maintain what is known as the “audibility standard,” but turn enforcement over to the police. Amplified music could not be “audible” 100 feet away from the wineries’ property line or inside a neighboring dwelling unit.

“The intent of the existing ordinance was well-meant, and none of us foresaw the problems we have since encountered,” Al Schornberg, the owner of Keswick Vineyards, told the commission Tuesday. “When we incorporate well-meaning standards without quantifying them … we leave ourselves open to abuse and misinterpretation.”

“I was disappointed. They went in the wrong direction,” Schornberg said in an interview. “The Planning Commission was supposed to work on finding an objective sound standard for farm wineries, and they didn’t do it.”

The commission’s 4-3 vote came after an impromptu public hearing and debate that lasted for almost an hour. Commissioners Don Franco, Mac Lafferty and Tom Loach voted against the motion, indicating a preference for a measurable standard.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution of intent Jan. 5 to have the commission make recommendations to amend the noise ordinance as it relates to farm wineries. While the commission held a work session on the issue last month, the item did not appear on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

Supervisors were briefed on the vote at a separate meeting Wednesday morning. County Attorney Larry Davis told the board that it would have to wait for the commission’s formal recommendation before opting for an alternative approach.

“If I understand [the action], the Planning Commission does not want to deal with the … winery issue as a land use issue, but instead deal with it as a nuisance issue,” Davis said. “You could take that approach, but it’s envisioned … that you would deal with land use issues in the zoning ordinance.”

“I would hope that the Planning Commission would hold a public hearing and bring a zoning text amendment to the Board of Supervisors rather than recommending that you adopt a [police powers] ordinance that’s not under their purview,” Davis added.

Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, said in an interview that while the commission’s action was a surprise, it would help resolve the matter more quickly.

“We believe an objective standard is preferable to the audible [standard], but in addition we believe that having the Planning Commission take this to a public hearing is helpful,” Williamson said. “There are businesses and neighbors that deserve resolution to this issue in short order.”

Schornberg says the noise debate is already affecting business at Keswick Vineyards.

“It has had a very negative impact,” Schornberg said. “People are planning their weddings now for the end of 2011 and spring of 2012. We are not even close to being fully booked, and I think it is the cloud of the sound ordinance hanging over us.”

Without an enclosed building for wedding receptions, Schornberg said Keswick Vineyards has relied upon specialized audio equipment that focuses the sound toward the dance floor and contains it with acoustical dampers.

“We are pretty confident we can keep our music so it is not audible [to our neighbors],” Schornberg said.

Page said he is not convinced a specific decibel limit will be enforceable by either the zoning staff or police.

“In my judgment, the push for a decibel standard is to serve one purpose only, to provide additional wiggle room for the winery to violate the noise standards,” Page said. “They know when you go to a decibel standard there are so many variables involved that impact sound level measurement, and in the course of a wedding the noise fluctuates a lot, and it usually ends in a huge crescendo after I go to bed.”

Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning, told the supervisors that public hearings on the matter have tentatively been scheduled for Mar. 1 before the Planning Commission and Mar. 9 before the Board of Supervisors.

January 31, 2011

Landowners concerned about dumping of D.C. sewage in Albemarle

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 31, 2011

On Jan. 12, trucks carrying sewage from Washington’s main wastewater treatment plant arrived at Agnes Fotta’s farm on Reas Ford Road, less than half a mile from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

20110131-Sludge-application2
Sludge being applied on a field in Campbell County (Daily Progress file photo)

They began spraying treated human waste, also known as biosolids or sludge, as a way to both fertilize land and dispose of the waste.

Since 2001, Recyc Systems of Culpeper has held a permit to apply the material on land in Albemarle County. Last October, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit modification allowing the firm to apply sludge to an additional 590 acres, bringing the total in Albemarle to 6,438 acres.

No money is exchanged between the landowner and Recyc Systems. Recyc is paid by the wastewater treatment plant to haul the material away, and the landowner benefits by getting free fertilizer.
Some county landowners are growing concerned about the use of biosolids and the growth of its application.

“Sewage sludge was previously dumped in the ocean but this practice was banned in 1988,” said Earlysville resident Vincent Lytle. “Now that same sludge is being dumped in our backyards.”

Lytle first learned about sludge when he received a notification from the DEQ about the permit modification that was sent to the Loftlands Glen Homeowners’ Association. He contends biosolids are filled with heavy metals, pathogens and pharmaceutical waste.

He is seeking a public forum to evaluate whether the practice is safe.

However, Lytle was told a public hearing was not needed because DEQ rules only require one if the permit holder seeks to double the amount of land.

At least one member of the Board of Supervisors is concerned about the issue.

“We’re starting to see more and more problems with biosolids being directly delivered onto the fields,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “It’s starting to creep up against neighborhoods now and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

An industry spokesman defends the practice as environmentally sound.

“We hear those concerns expressed and they are legitimate, but they have been addressed in research and in the regulatory process,” said Ned Beecher, executive director of the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association.

Beecher acknowledged that heavy metals are present in biosolids, but only in trace amounts that pose no threat if applications are controlled.

“Research continues but the risk is not considered to be significant,” Beecher said.

Officials with Recyc Systems declined a request for an interview, but the company’s website claims the practice is safe.

“The good news about biosolids is that they are totally recyclable,” states the website. “Because they are organic, they can (and should) be returned to the earth as fertilizer for plants. … Field research has shown that biosolid nutrients work better than chemical fertilizers for plants, and increase crop yields.”

In a section on safety, Recyc’s website points to a 1992 EPA study that claimed there had been no documentation of biosolids causing illness or disease.

But since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted more research to better understand the chemical composition of treated human waste.

In January 2009, the EPA released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. Research is ongoing, but not fast enough, according to one critic of sludge.

“What has not been determined is what the safe limit is for the contaminants in the environment,” said Ed Kondis, a retired landowner from Fauquier County who became involved in the campaign to stop sludge after he learned a nearby farmer had agreed to accept it.

Kondis said the government’s approach has been to approve permits before demonstrating that the application of sludge is safe. Instead, he said they should have sought to do no harm.

“There have been no scientific studies done that prove it is safe for public health,” Kondis said.
In 2007, the General Assembly commissioned an expert panel to review the application of biosolids to see if they are safe and if they affect property values.

“The panel uncovered no evidence or literature verifying a causal link between biosolids and illness, recognizing current gaps in the science and knowledge surrounding this issue,” states the executive summary.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-and-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts.”

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority takes no position on the practice, according to Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick. He said the RWSA pays McGill Environmental Systems $43 per ton shipped to their facility in Waverly.

Until recently, biosolids were regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, but the General Assembly handed the approval process to the Department of Environmental Quality in 2007.

“I would say that biosolids are probably the most regulated organic material, tighter than fertilizer and animal residuals,” said Gary Flory, water compliance officer for the DEQ’s Shenandoah Valley office, and the man responsible for granting the permit.

Download Download DEQ's October 2010 permit modification for Recyc Systems in Albemarle County

The terms of the permit require Recyc to notify localities 100 days before application.

The firm must notify the DEQ 14 days before application, but Flory said it often happens that they are notified on the day of application.

The permit restricts what agricultural activities can occur on the land after application. For instance, livestock are not allowed to graze for 30 days after application to ensure that any pathogens that are present will have died.

To be granted a permit, operators must develop a plan to ensure nitrogen and phosphorous do not enter the watershed and buffer zones must be established.

Flory said Recyc Systems has never been cited for improperly discharging sludge in Albemarle.

“We have a field presence to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Flory said. “We do some inspections to make sure they’re flagging the buffers so you don’t have impact to groundwater.”

However, he said Recyc is currently being cited for two applications of sludge that occurred before the 100-day notification period to the county was up. Neither was on Fotta’s land.

Recyc’s permit has an expiration date of June 30, 2019, but Flory said it can be revoked “if there is a change in the science or current knowledge.”

It is unclear what, if anything, the county can do to regulate the practice.

“The county has limited authority related to the land application of sewage sludge under state law,” said Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner in an e-mail to Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who asked for the information in response to a request from Lytle.

In Blanton v. Amelia County, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local zoning regulations banning the practice are pre-empted by state law, according to Kamptner.

“DEQ finds out about a planned application of sewage sludge the day before a land application will occur and if it can free up an inspector, it does so,” Kamptner said.

Sludge has not yet been applied to Lytle’s neighbor’s land, and he remains concerned about the possibility of his family’s health being affected after it is.

“Why should I be subjected to the risk that my neighbors are willing to take?” Lytle asked.
Mallek sounds the same note.

20110131-Sludge-application
Daily Progress file photo showing sludge being applied in Albemarle County

“The unknowns in the biosolids are what alarms me,” Mallek said. “I predict that in another decade a decision will be made that these are not healthy behaviors and we should stop.”

However, Beecher said he does not think alternatives to using sludge as fertilizer are as attractive.

“The other options are to incinerate or put it in a landfill, both of which do not take advantage of the nutrients,” Beecher said. “However, it should be done with the understanding of the community.”

He said the benefits of returning organic material to soil outweighed the risks.

“Our soils have been depleted of organic matter,” Beecher said. “Nutrients provide additional support for better plant growth than can be attained with commercial fertilizer.”

January 19, 2011

Farm winery neighbors seek protection from wedding noise

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Several neighbors of Keswick Vineyards told the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday that they want continued protection from amplified music played at weddings and other outdoor events held there.

“At times, the noise has constituted an attack on the senses,” said Bert Page, who lives next to the vineyard. He said his quality of his has been affected by increased activity next door.

Last May, the county amended its zoning ordinance to comply with a state law passed in 2007 that limited restrictions localities can place on farm wineries. The new rules, which were designed to encourage agricultural activities, also allowed wineries to increase the number of special events they could hold to raise additional revenue.

The ordinance change also permitted amplified music to be played outside, as long as the sound is not “audible” 100 feet away from the wineries’ property line or inside a neighboring dwelling unit.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110118-APC-Wineries

20110118-Schornbergs
Keswick Vineyards is owned by Al and Cindy Schornberg, who were in attendance at the work session

 

However, the owners of Keswick Vineyard have requested that the language be changed, claiming the measurement is too vague. A roundtable on the issue was held in December and direction was given to change the language governing how sound would be measured for the purposes of enforcement.

“We’re trying to balance the needs of the farm winery industry to protect their economic vitality, and the interests of the neighbors nearby,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s director of zoning.

McCulley said a move to a decibel-based measurement would be more objective and would allow for wineries to police their own activities. She said there is also a concern that police are not currently authorized to respond to complaints because land use issues are a civil matter, not a criminal one.

A lawyer representing Keswick Vineyards said his client supports the change in language.

“This is an issue of determining how loud the amplified music is, and we would concur that a reasonable standard is 55 decibels,” said attorney Phillip Strother.

Strother said the vineyard is working with sound engineers to design a system that will shut off the public address system if it exceeds the decibel level.

But many neighbors said the existing ordinance gives them power to have their complaints acted upon.

“They want permission to be louder than anyone else in the county can be,” said John Henry Jordan, another adjacent landowner. “If you can hear the noise 100 feet over the property line, it’s too loud.”

Actress Sissy Spacek said she was a large supporter of Virginia wine, but that she felt rural homeowners also have a right to peace and quiet. She said she herself moved here in 1978 to get away from noise pollution in Los Angeles.

“I chose a location 25 miles outside of Charlottesville where you could only hear birds and frogs and geese,” Spacek said. She suggested a compromise where winery owners could only hold weddings and other events indoors.

20110118-Zobrist
Duane Zobrist

During their discussion, some commissioners said the existing ordinance has not had a chance to see if it has been effective, pointing out the only complaints have been associated with Keswick Vineyards.

“I have trouble, with after less than a year rewriting an ordinance, [this] just hasn’t been out there long enough,” Commissioner Linda Porterfield said. She called for better enforcement of the existing ordinance and suggested that police be allowed to assist the zoning department.

The commission’s chairman, Duane Zobrist, said he could not hear the music when he attended a wedding at Keswick Vineyards in October, but said there needed to be changes to the ordinance.

“I think what we need to do is translate this into an objective standard,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think you’re going to have a plethora of enforcements if there’s an objective standard. … We don’t have a lot of experience with this, but we have one nasty situation right now.”

No official decision on the ordinance language will be made until a Planning Commission public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

 

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:40 - Introduction from Duane Zobrist, chair of the planning commission
  • 02:00 - Staff report from Amelia McCulley, director of zoning
  • 14:00 - Demonstration of county's sound monitoring equipment
  • 17:00 - Commissions ask questions
  • 21:00 - Public comment from Bert Page, neighbor of Keswick Vineyards
  • 27:45 - Public comment from Philip Strother, attorney for Schornburgs
  • 31:00 - Public comment from Al Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards
  • 33:00 - Public comment from Cindy Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards
  • 35:30 - Public comment from Art Beltone, adjoining landowner
  • 39:00 - Public comment from John Henry Jordan, adjoining landowner
  • 42:30 - Public comment from Sissy Spacek
  • 45:00 - Public comment from Nanette Derkac, adjoining landowner
  • 47:30 - Public comment from Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vineyards
  • 49:20 - Public comment from Kathleen Jump
  • 52:20 - Public comment from Barbara Lundgren of Keswick Vineyards
  • 52:50 - Public comment from Pierce Derkac
  • 56:15 - Public comment from Judith Sommer, nearby landowner
  • 59:40 - Public comment from Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
  • 1:03:30 - Public comment from Tim Hulbert of the Chamber of Commerce
  • 1:06:00 - Public comment from Joe Hall of Albemarle County
  • 1:08:45 - Public comment from Kris Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards
  • 1:09:30 - Public comment from Charlotte Shelton of Albemarle Ciderworks
  • 1:11:30 - Item discussed by commissioners

December 24, 2010

Albemarle panel debates slaughterhouse rules

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, December 24, 2010

A divided Albemarle County Planning Commission could not reach consensus earlier this week on whether to relax rules that govern where animal slaughterhouses can be operated.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101221-slaughterhouses

No slaughterhouses operate in the county today and planning staff recommended changes, in part to satisfy the growing interest in the local food movement. The debate over slaughterhouses is also part of an ongoing review of the zoning ordinance to satisfy a directive from the Board of Supervisors to promote economic development.

“What you will see potentially happening in the coming years is more of a local demand for ways to process local food products,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning. “The turn there seems to be towards having more local food available for local sales.”

“We do have a lot of folks who raise cattle and they have to take their animals outside of the area over fairly long distances,” said Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development facilitator.

Currently, slaughterhouses are only allowed in heavy industrial zones with a special-use permit. Staff had recommended dropping that requirement, except when the operator wanted to render inedible parts of slaughtered animals into some form of marketable byproduct.

“What we’ve tried to do is to identify opportunities to make industrial districts more viable for modern industrial operations,” Cilimberg said. “In the first phase we moved certain by-right heavy industry uses into the light industrial category by special-use permit.”

Commissioner Linda Porterfield said she opposed the change.

“There are many considerations with a slaughterhouse, including the runoff,” Porterfield said. “There’s noise, bringing in the animals, killing the animals … They need a lot of water for this particular kind of business.”

Porterfield noted that the existing public hearing requirement with a special-use permit gives the community a chance to make certain that slaughterhouses are located in appropriate locations.

“Without a slaughterhouse available, people are doing these types of activities on their own,” said zoning official J.T. Newberry. “Having a slaughterhouse that would be able to accommodate some of their plans for the future might be a use we would want to consider.”

Commissioners Russell Lafferty and Tom Loach agreed with Porterfield’s position, but Commissioners Don Franco, Duane Zobrist and Calvin Morris said they could support the change. Commissioner Ed Smith was not present at the Tuesday meeting.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum argued to accept the staff recommendation because it would fulfill a local demand.

“Albemarle County defers a great deal of tax base to allow [the land use tax program], and in the Comprehensive Plan, you support agricultural production,” Williamson said. “Cows become hamburger.Why would you create barriers to discourage the end result of the activity that you’re encouraging on the other side?”

Performance standards for how slaughterhouses would be regulated have not yet been written, but will be discussed by the commission during the next phase of the review of industrial zoning.
Commissioners agreed not to give a direction on slaughterhouses until that information was made available.

The ordinance review also is taking a look at whether office and residential uses should be restricted in the light industrial zones because of the relative scarcity of that type of land in the county.

“Concerns have been expressed previously that we may be losing some of our industrial land to non-industrial activities,” Cilimberg said.

To protect industrial land, staff recommended that commercial office uses require a special-use permit for all industrial districts.

Staff also proposed that homes be allowed in light industrial districts but only with a special-use permit.

“There may be areas in industrial zonings where residential uses are appropriate because if it’s a large employment area, people may want to live near where they work,” Cilimberg said.

Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he supports those changes.

“The encroachment of commercial uses into industrially designated land is a significant issue,” Butler said. “Not only does it affect the supply of industrial land in the county, but it also drives up the cost, making it unaffordable for would-be industrial users to move here.”

A public hearing on the changes will be held early next year.

December 05, 2010

West Virginia company buys 4,500 acres in Albemarle near Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, December 5, 2010

The family that owns The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia has acquired 4,500 acres in Albemarle County south of Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello.

The James C. Justice Cos. purchased 55 parcels from MeadWestvaco Corp. for $23.75 million in a deal that closed last week.

20101205-MeadWestvaco James C. Justice II is CEO of the family-run West Virginia company known for its coal mining, farming and timber operations. Justice bought The Greenbrier in 2009 when it was facing bankruptcy. Justice company representatives did not respond to a request to comment on their intentions for the property in Albemarle.

James H. Hill, a MeadWestvaco vice president, confirmed the sale and said the property was no longer needed for the company’s timber operations.

“Several years ago, MeadWestvaco launched a rural land sales program,” Hill said in an e-mail. “These properties have been managed for decades to the highest standards … ideal for investors or outdoor enthusiasts. This 4,500-acre tract has been managed for fiber supply and is no longer strategic for the company’s needs.”

MeadWestvaco’s land sales website advertised the property as the “Presidential Estates” given its location near the homes of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson. The advertised price was $38.5 million and the land, zoned for rural use, has an assessed value of $21.5 million. It sold to the Justice Cos. for $2.25 million over the tax assessment.

Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County, said he thought the land had the potential for about 450 residential units.

“That’s a best-case scenario, not accounting for critical slopes and road access,” Linville said. “That said, I don’t know what they intend to do. We would like an opportunity to work with an owner like this on preservation of the property, and we hope that’s the new owner’s intent.”

‘Historically significant’

Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, said in a prepared statement that “the land to the south of Monticello is historically significant, since it remains largely as Jefferson saw it.”

“We are committed to working with our community partners to ensure protection of the viewshed from Monticello,” Bowman added. “We welcome our new neighbors and look forward to working together to protect Jefferson’s views for future generations.”

Christopher Owens, a historic preservationist from Spotsylvania, has been working since 2004 to complete a mapping project of land once owned by President Monroe.

“Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, is a 535-acre remnant of what was a 3,500-acre estate,” Owens said. “The MeadWestvaco tract has 700 acres of Monroe’s original Highland estate.”

“Ecologically and historically, it is really an historic piece of property,” Owens said. “The use has remained unchanged throughout civilized history. Owners have always used this land for timber. In fact, Monroe had a sawmill on the property and it is likely that his old grist mill was there too.”

Bigger than Biscuit Run

At 4,500 acres, the MeadWestvaco parcels combined are 3 1/2 times the size of the Biscuit Run development that the state bought last year for a future state park. The commonwealth paid $9.8 million for the 1,200 acres, plus an unspecified amount of Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits.

Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy, said the MeadWestvaco land had been identified as an attractive site for a park prior to the state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run. His organization got involved soon after MeadWestvaco put it on the market in 2006.

“We were involved in trying to find a way to protect the MeadWestvaco property either through state ownership or conservation easements with private ownership,” Kittrell said. “I think whatever timber liquidity there was, they have already extracted what was of any value. Given its location near Monticello, the value is less in timber and more in other forms of development, like residential and estate land.”

In 2008, The Nature Conservancy had local Charlottesville-based Nelson, Byrd, Woltz Landscape Architects prepare a master plan for a public park and nature preserve. At that time, Biscuit Run was poised to become Albemarle’s largest residential development in history, having already been approved for up to 3,100 homes.

The conceptual master plan for “Jefferson Monroe Park” was shared with state officials and potential investors. Ridge Schuyler, a former member of the local Nature Conservancy staff, said he toured the property when the park concept was being developed.

“It has beautiful bones,” Schuyler said. “It’s a nice, rolling piece of property with spectacular views back towards Monticello and the Southwest Mountains. In its post timbered state, it’s not the most attractive, but you could see the potential.”

“I don’t know how much value it has as timber property,” Schuyler added. “MeadWestvaco sold it because it wasn’t close to their sawmills, and it hasn’t moved any closer.”

Hopes for the future

Owens observed that a unique opportunity exists with the University of Virginia’s ownership of the adjacent Morven Farm.

“My goal was to at least get [Monroe’s] 700 acres back somehow,” Owens said. “One could easily create an almost 12,000-acre park unifying the land with Morven, Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello. It’s a very historic landscape. Mr. Justice could still harvest timber and do that.”

The PEC’s Linville questioned such a high price being paid for a long-term timber investment.

“I called contacts in the timber business, and they said that the price didn’t make sense from a timber investment perspective, you wouldn’t recoup your investment on timber alone,” Linville said. “It’s also equally unlikely someone would pay that price from a residential development angle. Since neither scenario really makes sense in today’s market, my hope is it’s a conservation transaction.”

Besides The Greenbrier, the Justice family has owned or developed other large recreational properties. According to Marshall University’s website, where Jim Justice received his undergraduate and MBA degrees, the family developed the Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in West Virginia’s Monroe County.

December 03, 2010

Albemarle wineries seek clear standard for measuring noise from special events

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, December 3, 2010
 
Seven months after approving new regulations for farm wineries, Albemarle County officials held a roundtable discussion Thursday to gather community feedback. Some neighbors of Albemarle’s farm wineries called for a crackdown on noise coming from special events such as weddings. Wineries asked for a clearer standard on appropriate noise levels.

20101202-SchornbergAl Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards

County spokeswoman Lee Catlin said the roundtable, attended by about 35 people, was initiated both to get additional feedback and to respond to a few citizen complaints.

“There was a sense that we had gone through the busiest season, and we wanted to check in and see if there were any unintended consequences,” Catlin said in an interview. “We had one particular issue — the noise levels.”

Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, said the noise standards for outdoor amplified music had been identified heading into the roundtable as an issue needing review.

“When the noise ordinance was rewritten … and the standard went from ‘not objectionable to a reasonable person’ to ‘audible at [100 feet] from the property line’ … The definition of ‘audible’ is different for each individual, so some of the farm wineries are seeking a more specific standard, like a certain decibel level,” Williamson said in an interview.

Albemarle’s farm winery regulations were changed in response to state legislation passed in 2007 that limited local government’s ability to regulate the industry. When the Albemarle Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance changes in May, local wineries gained the ability to hold an unlimited number of special events and to host larger groups.

20101202-Page2
Keswick resident Bert Page

Keswick resident Bert Page said amplified music coming from weddings at Keswick Vineyards over the past several months was impacting his quality of life. He called for full enforcement of the noise ordinance to create a deterrent.

“These activities have had a shattering effect on the very essence of our existence,” Page said. “We have been left not knowing from day to day what might happen the next weekend and how loud things might get.”

Al Schornberg, owner of Keswick Vineyards, said after the roundtable that his business had taken steps to address his neighbors’ concerns.

“We had a professional sound engineer do testing at various distances,” Schornberg said. “We have done a lot to abate the sound with curtains and acoustical materials. The noise we make now does not exceed the ambient noise levels.”

Charlotte Shelton, owner of North Garden’s Albemarle CiderWorks, said she thought the feedback from some citizens represented a small problem in the county overall.

“Most wineries are not experiencing this issue,” Shelton said in an interview. “To imply that every winery is having wall-to-wall events is making a mountain out of a mole hill, and that’s unfortunate.”

20101202-Hannon
Carrie Hannon, general manager of King Family Vineyards

Carrie Hannon, general manager of King Family Vineyards, said she was very pleased with the process the county is taking to gather input from local wineries.

“The county has done a really good job by having these work sessions to get an understanding of what the wineries are trying to do,” Hannon said in an interview. “We have reached a really good understanding with the supervisors and the staff. We are all on the same page finally.”

Patrick Cushing, director of the Virginia Wine Council, said Albemarle was one of the three largest wine-producing counties in Virginia and it was being looked at as a leader with respect to the new ordinances.

“It is appropriate to find a balance between neighbors and wineries,” Cushing said. “Tantamount to that is getting an objective [noise] standard on the table so a winery can be proactive.”

Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner pointed out that one reason the county chose not to rely on a specific decibel level and noise meters for enforcement related to the difficulty of using them in the countryside, particularly at night.

“If it is going to be enforced by the police, and measured from the property line, to go out at any time of day and particularly at night and locate the property line was seen to be problematic,” Kamptner said.

The Albemarle supervisors are expected to decide whether to study the ordinance further at their first meeting in January. The Planning Commission has tentatively scheduled a work session on the matter for Jan. 18.

November 08, 2010

Localities concerned about cost of implementing Bay plan

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
 
Charlottesville and Albemarle could be mandated to spend as much as $25 million a year on enhanced stormwater facilities to further reduce pollution if Virginia does not submit a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan that meets the expectations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials in Virginia’s urban areas think the clean-up requirements should be shared more with rural localities.

“This will be costly and difficult no matter what, but if the Virginia plan is adequately written, then the burden will be shared by everybody,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “As it is written now, the burden will be [bourne] by local government and it will be very costly.”

Both the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors were briefed last week on the progress of the EPA’s requirement to sharply reduce the total maximum daily load of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enters the Chesapeake Bay.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101109-TMDL

Earlier this year, Virginia submitted a watershed implementation plan that the EPA said would not be sufficient to meet its pollution reduction goals. The EPA has the authority to implement tougher guidelines, called backstops, if the states do not adequately describe what steps they will take to meet the goals of the TMDL by 2025.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is authorized to regulate “point-source” pollution that directly enters the watershed.

TMDL-chart1
Each watershed is divided into segments of river, each of which will be given an allocation of how much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment can be discharged

“[These] are things like our wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater systems, small industrial plants,” said Leslie Middleton, executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission. She added that would create little incentive for non-point source polluters such as farmers and construction sites to change their practices.

“The key concern here is that the backstop allocations will fall exclusively on permit holders because those are the only sources that EPA directly regulates,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

If that happens, cities with regulated stormwater systems such as Charlottesville would need to meet more aggressive standards. Localities would also be required to develop and monitor nutrient management plans for publicly owned lands such as schools and golf courses, as well as public roads.

A study by the Timmons Group claims that the city’s cost to retrofit its stormwater system could be between $7 million and $15 million a year.

Mark Graham, Albemarle’s director of community development, estimated it could cost the county between $5 million and $10 million, most of which would be spent on efforts to slow and capture stormwater.

“There are a lot of estimates out there on urban retrofit costs in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 [per acre],” Graham said.

Additional costs could be borne by the water and sewer ratepayers.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is currently upgrading the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to increase its ability to strip nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Rivanna River.

“The plant was not designed to meet the criteria that EPA has said they might put in as a backstop,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of fear it’s not going to be adequate and that the RWSA is going to be asked to do more in the 2015 to 2020 timeframe, but we don’t know that for sure.”

RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. said in an e-mail that the plant can meet the goals for phosphorous under the backstop, but would not meet the target for nitrogen.

“We are still addressing with our engineering consultant and have not yet determined a price for further reduction of nitrogen from 5 milligrams per liter to 4 milligrams per liter,” Frederick said.

“The most important story, in my view, about the backstops is that it would punish urban citizens with higher costs because federal and state governments are not willing to make the political decisions to equitably reduce non-point sources of pollution, much of which comes from more rural areas,” Frederick added. 

Graham said there were other questions waiting to be answered.

“For Albemarle County, the largest source of impervious cover in the county is state right of way,” Graham said. “Who is going to be responsible for providing stormwater management for all of [those roads]? No one can answer that question today.”

Supervisor Duane Snow said he did not think the community would be able to afford complying with the TMDL, especially given Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“There’s not any money out there coming to any locality from any direction,” Snow said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the community should keep in mind that any improvements, even if mandated by the federal government, would restore oxygen to area streams and would restore wildlife habitat.

“If we try to train ourselves to look at what we’re doing to benefit our locality and our local residents, then it’s a little easier to swallow,” Mallek said.

Virginia will submit a final watershed plan later this month. The City Council sent a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell last week urging him to direct the state Department of Environmental Quality to submit a more detailed plan.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:45 - Leslie Middleton begins her briefing to City Council
  • 13:30 - Steve Williams of the TJPDC begins his briefing to City Council
  • 18:30 - Jim Tolbert begins his presentation to City Council
  • 21:10 - Council discussion period
  • 27:30 - County Board of Supervisor's briefing begins with Mark Graham
  • 29:15 - Sally Thomas offers her perspective
  • 33:15 - Leslie Middleton briefs the Board of Supervisors
  • 49:33 - Stephen Williams briefs the Board
  • 51:00 - Duane Snow asks if Moores Creek WWTP upgrades will be sufficient
  • 56:45 - Boyd questions the value of a nutrient exchange market
  • 1:06:30 - Boyd asks what county will have to do to comply with aggressive stormwater standards
  • 1:28:30  Sally Thomas addresses the fairness issue