Vintners to challenge Fauquier winery ordinance in court

To probably no one’s surprise, Fauquier’s new winery ordinance likely will face legal challenges.

“I think it’s a foregone conclusion I will file suit to protect my legal options,” Philip Carter Strother, owner of Philip Carter Winery near Hume, said Friday, the day after the county board of supervisors approved the controversial measure.

Brian Roeder, owner of Barrel Oak Winery near Delaplane, and the Virginia Wine Council also could join the fray.

“I have hired a lawyer to look at my rights under the law,” Roeder said Friday.

Strother, a Richmond lawyer, chairs the Richmond-based wine council board, which represents most of Virginia’s 200-plus wineries.

“We’re still going over the various options and talking with the other wineries,” he said when asked if the organization would sue the county. “I can’t speak on behalf of the council.”

But Strother said the board members likely would discuss strategy sometime this week in a conference call.

Wineries and others with standing, a legal interest in the ordinance’s effects, have 30 days as of the July 12 adoption date to challenge the law in Fauquier Circuit Court.

Supervisor Peter Schwartz (Marshall District), who worked closely with wineries, neighbors and organizations in developing the ordinance, said “there’s been a lot of gossip” about potential lawsuits challenging the new law.

“I’m assuming we’ll have litigation,” Schwartz said Saturday. “I will be pleasantly surprised if we don’t.”

The ordinance seeks to conform to state law that governs wineries.

The vast majority of Fauquier’s 26 wineries insist the ordinance illegally regulates their activities, partly because it limits the number, kind and scale of events after so-called normal business hours.

They contend the restrictions will do irreparable financial harm to them.

Winery neighbors, especially, and others argue that the ordinance doesn’t go far enough in protecting them against the potential for excessive noise, traffic and unsafe roads because of drunken drivers.

People on both sides of the matter spoke during a July 12 public hearing on the proposed ordinance that lasted two and half hours.

More than 50 people addressed the board of supervisors, including winery neighbors, winery owners and workers and representatives of the Virginia Wine Council, Piedmont Environmental Council and Citizens For Fauquier County.

The wine council wanted the supervisors to kill the proposed ordinance.

PEC and CFFC urged them to adopt it.

More than 70 people crowded into the first-floor meeting room of the historic Warren Green Building at 10 Hotel St., Warrenton, awaiting the board’s decision.

At 11:25 p.m. last Thursday, after 30 minutes of staking their positions, the supervisors passed the ordinance by a 4-to-1 vote.

Besides Schwartz, Chris Granger (Center District), Chester Stribling (Lee District) and R. Holder Trumbo Jr. (Scott District) backed the proposal. Lee Sherbeyn (Cedar Run District) opposed it.

Stribling said the ordinance may be flawed but he supported it because he believes it protects the interests of wineries and residents. Over time, the ordinance can be improved as needed, he said. Meanwhile, “let’s tolerate each other,” Stribling urged.

In various ways, the new ordinance protects the interests of all, Granger said.

For example, it gives wineries 24 to 48 events up and above activities allowed during “normal operating hours,” he said.

Granger also likes that fees associated with the new ordinance would be waived for the first 18 months. And he believes the idea of a board-appointed mediation panel to resolve winery-related disputes has merit.

Schwartz described the new winery ordinance “as rather good” and “rather balanced” but one that might be refined.

“We’ve come a long way on this,” he told the audience, adding: “I’m kind of happy. Maybe I’m the only one in the room.”

“I recognize this isn’t perfect,” Trumbo said. But the new ordinance represents the board’s best effort to balance the concerns of wineries and residents and at the same time comply with state law, he said.

Explaining his opposition to the ordinance, Sherbeyn said: “We’re trying to over-regulate. Over-regulation is as bad as over-medication.”

In 2007, county staff began studying ways to develop a Fauquier winery ordinance that would be consistent with state law. The five-year review entailed numerous work sessions and public hearings, culminating with the board’s decision last Thursday night.