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Albemarle officials address concerns about proposed brewery

Local officials worked to address area residents’ concerns about a proposed brewery Wednesday evening, saying many aspects of the proposal were not subject to local control.

More than 80 area residents attended a public meeting Wednesday night and many expressed concerns about a proposed Champion Brewing Company project in Earlysville.

The meeting at Agnor Hurt Elementary School was held by Board of Supervisors Chairman Ned Gallaway to provide information to community members about farm brewery regulations.

Last month, Champion made public plans to convert a longtime church near the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir into a summer camp-themed tasting room and farm brewery. Champion hopes to open the location in April.

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control license application for the site is still pending.

Francis MacCall, a county principal planner in the zoning department, said Albemarle is limited in what it can regulate when it comes to agricultural uses for property.

“The state basically outlines to us what we can and cannot do and one of the things we can’t do is regulate it beyond what has been outlined in their state code,” he said.

The property is zoned Rural Areas, in which farm breweries — along with specific operational, agritourism and beer sales-related uses — are permitted by-right, meaning no county legislative approval is needed.

If the 3.2-acre property receives state permits, its farm brewery activities would be limited to only what is granted by-right, such as a tasting room, selling beer-related items and gifts, growing agricultural products and providing finger foods and appetizers.

The property would not be eligible for what the county defines as “farm brewery events,” or weddings, which require a minimum of five acres of agricultural products planted on-site to be used in beverage production, among other requirements.

Hunter Smith, president and head brewer of the Charlottesville-based brewing company, told The Daily Progress last week that Champion is renting the property.

MacCall said the potential property owner also has applied for a building permit to change the use from a church to a farm brewery, and the Virginia Department of Health will review the current septic system in that process.

Almost everyone who asked questions or provided comments at the meeting was against the proposed brewery; only one person spoke in favor.

One man said the effect the brewery will have on the people that live in the area will be “profound.”

“I think our elected officials have to do more than adhere to a checklist,” he said, which was met with applause.

“I would like our elected officials to look carefully at what can they do, not just what is currently on the books,” he said. “They need to advocate for this particular situation.”

Gallaway said the county is again asking for more local control of regulations in their 2020 legislative priorities. The board met with delegate-elect Sally Hudson earlier Wednesday afternoon, who has also supported local control around certain issues.

“We understand the concerns of folks when things pop up, but until the state grants us the local authority to do it, we’re not complying with a checklist, we’re complying with state law, and that is just how it’s going to have to be,” Gallaway said.

He encouraged community members to go to their state legislators and advocate for more local government control.

One woman asked if the county could pass a resolution similar to what localities across Virginia are doing to state that they will not enforce any unconstitutional federal or state gun laws.

“I’m not sure that this is significantly different than that,” she said. “Yes, I totally understand what you’re saying and I know that your hands are tied, but the gun advocates can pass resolutions and say, ‘Forget it, we’re not following your laws,’ then why can’t we do that with something so simple and something that’s going to affect our lives everyday?”

Last week, Albemarle residents and other gun rights supporters packed the board’s meeting to encourage members to make the county a Second Amendment sanctuary, but almost all of the members said they would not propose a resolution to make Albemarle a Second Amendment sanctuary county.

“I’m not going to ever advocate that anybody not comply with the law,” Gallaway said.


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