The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors gave its blessing to Narmada Winery’s proposal to build a 2,800-square-foot weddings-and-events center Monday night (July 7), but not without significant pre-nuptial agreements.
The agreements, or restrictions, were specific to Narmada but seemed also meant to address an often-rocky three-way relationship — between the county, the Virginia General Assembly and wineries that wish to do more than make and sell wine.
“One of the reasons why I like this application . . . is that it will set the tone for that next winery that comes in and wants to do events,” said County Administrator John McCarthy. “Tariq Salahi [former owner of Oasis Winery] and others had some success in going to the General Assembly to basically get exemptions written into state law that restrict local governments. [Such state laws] were generated because certain local governments weren’t willing to let the wineries do anything.”
Approval of the Narmada plan, with restrictions applied specifically to the uses of the property that are not directly wine-related, was “a yes that we can live with,” McCarthy said.
After a more than hour-long discussion, it was Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish — who started the meeting by reading aloud an official four-paragraph Virginia Conflict of Interests Act disclosure stating why he believed his ownership of property adjoining Narmada’s was outweighed by the interests of county residents at large — who offered the motion to approve the special exception permit for Narmada’s conference center.
The unanimous approval that followed was of a permit with conditions reflecting nearly all of the worries expressed during the preceding hour by the supervisors and the few citizens who spoke up during the public hearing, worries focused primarily on after-dark noise, traffic and light.
The board retained the conditions asked by the planning commission June 18 — no outdoor amplified music, an 11 p.m. event curfew, approval by the health department of the septic system and meeting of standards set by Virginia Department of Transportation (which will apparently require a 400-foot turn lane at the property’s U.S. 211 entrance). And it added the following:
• a limit of 150 patrons per event (the planners had agreed to 200);
• a limit of 18 events annually (the planners had imposed no limit) with a provision to review the limit two years after the center opens;
• the requirement that all lighting — including existing outdoor fixtures around the winery’s tasting-room/storage shed — meet the county’s commercial lighting ordinance, which requires down-screened fixtures, shorter poles and motion-activated outdoor floodlights, and with the additional condition that parking-lot lights be equipped with motion-controlled bi-level ballasts (allowing the lights to operate at less than full power when no one’s there);
• and screening of existing and new parking areas with plantings.
After public-hearing pleas by Flint Hill resident Ron Maxwell and Sperryville resident Milton Roney to preserve Rappahannock’s dark-county status (seen on a satellite map Parrish had projected on the courtroom screens showing nighttime light patterns across Northern Virginia), Parrish said he declined to recuse himself because of both the light-pollution issue and “the fact that wineries are not going away. They are coming.”
“Let me say the Patils, [Narmada owners] Pandit and Sudha, are wonderful people, so I’m not really speaking about them but about the relationship that we want to have between wineries and the general population.” Because many wineries have found that the business cannot succeed on grape and vintage production alone, Parrish said, there’s been a move to hosting events.
“I personally don’t think we should approve such uses in the middle of the country. They are in agricultural areas, for the most part, tranquil places,” he said. “And so what we’re going to have these pockets of disturbance throughout the county. The comprehensive plan doesn’t really address wineries specifically because there were so few when it was written. We really need to get ahead of the runaway horse.”
It was Piedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek who suggested the 40-by-70-foot building designed by architect Dick Manuel (who represented the Patils, with winery general manager Mary Ann Dancisin, at Monday’s hearing) was not quite large enough to host sit-down events for 200 people, and that the limit be reduced to 150. Hampton supervisor Bryant Lee pushed for applying the down-shielded lighting restrictions to existing as well as new lights. Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier suggested the bi-level ballasts for darkening fixtures when no one needed them.
Manuel and Dancisin nodded and agreed to all the conditions, several of which, Manuel said, the winery owners already intended (including the plantings to screen the parking facilities from neighbors).