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Camp Champion withdraws application for Earlysville brewery

Champion Brewing Company is no longer pursuing a new location off Earlysville Road.

The brewery and county officials said Wednesday that a license application for the controversial proposed brewery has been withdrawn.

Champion Brewing Company late last year announced plans to convert a longtime church near the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir into a summer camp-themed tasting room and farm brewery. The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control license application for the site was withdrawn on Tuesday.

“We’re looking forward to announcing a new location for Camp Champion in 2020,” Hunter Smith, president and head brewer of the Charlottesville-based brewing company, said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that Albemarle County never took the time to meet with our group and continues its history of honoring the desires of a few residents. We’re bolstered by all of the excitement and support we’ve received from the majority of Earlysville and other Albemarle County residents and are excited to bring that same energy to a new, fun location that all will want to visit.”

Many neighbors expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic on Earlysville Road and how a brewery might change the character of the neighborhood, well water supply and the water quality of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Ralph Morini, who lives in the nearby Rivanna subdivision, said he was delighted with the outcome.

“It’s all residential around here, there are no commercial businesses, and I just thought it was a bad place for it,” he said.

“It’s not that we have anything against Champion or breweries generally, it’s just that we sincerely and honestly thought it was the wrong place for that kind of establishment,” Morini said. “I wish Champion the best. I hope they find a great old alternate location, and I’d be happy to be a customer of theirs.”

Champion was going to rent the property, which was home to a church for decades. Morini said a neighbor was working to buy the property and keep it a church.

“He’s been talking to a couple of local churches and part of his agreement with whatever church settles in there is to give them a very favorable lease rate or or deal on use of the property,” Morini said. “In return, they make a commitment to be active in the community doing positive community activities, whatever happens to fit their abilities and interest.”

The county held a community meeting in December to address concerns, but ultimately said that many aspects of the proposal were not subject to local control, as farm breweries — along with specific operational, agritourism and beer sales-related uses — are permitted by-right on that property, meaning no county legislative approval is needed.

“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,” a county principal planner in the zoning department said at the time.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in December saying that it “strongly supports” those in opposition to the license.

The board had planned to send the resolution, along with a personal objection from Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, to a Virginia ABC licensing hearing.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday, Mallek said she spoke with someone from the ABC who told her the application was withdrawn.

“This gives us a very small window to make some really important changes if we can to protect our reservoirs, all of them — Beaver Creek, Ragged Mountain, Totier Creek — because there are dozens of other places where this could go,” she said.

She said she wanted to look at making changes to setbacks and limiting commercial uses on properties like the property Champion was considering.

County Attorney Greg Kamptner said he would talk with other county staff, as there might be a possibility to add something in under the water protection ordinance which is coming before the board for a work session in March.


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