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December 7, 2012

County, Barrel Oak Winery working to settle lawsuit

Photo/Barrel Oak Winery
Supervisors consider argument that Barrel Oak has established a “pattern of use” giving it “vested” right to continue with far more “special events” than the new Farm Winery Ordinance permits.
We are hopeful that we’ll come to a fair resolution. A lot of good people are working on it, but this could fall apart at any time. We want to give the process an opportunity to work.
— Brian Roeder, Barrel Oak Winery owner
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Fauquier’s largest winery and the board of supervisors have called a cease fire as they attempt to negotiate settlement of a lawsuit challenging new county regulations adopted in July.

Barrel Oak Winery on Aug. 10 filed a suit that claims the supervisors exceeded their authority under state law and failed to consider the economic impact of the Farm Winery Ordinance, adopted on a 4-1 vote.

County Attorney Kevin Burke and Merle Fallon, Barrel Oak’s lawyer, started talks soon after the lawsuit’s filing. The board of supervisors has met several times in closed session with Mr. Burke to discuss the case.

Last month, a board majority decided to consider a settlement. The supervisors and the winery agreed to a “temporary stay” of the lawsuit, which Fauquier County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker approved.

Mr. Fallon refused to comment Friday.

“We are hopeful that we’ll come to a fair resolution,” Barrel Oak owner Brian Roeder said in a telephone interview. “A lot of good people are working on it, but this could fall apart at any time.

“We want to give the process an opportunity to work.”

While negotiations take place, the supervisors have agreed that the Delaplane winery may continue to operate the way it has since 2008, conducting up to 194 annual “special events,” as defined in the new ordinance. Otherwise, Barrel Oak would have been limited to far fewer events under the ordinance, which takes effect Jan. 1.

In broad terms, a settlement could acknowledge a “pattern of use” that gives the 77-acre Barrel Oak a “vested” right to permanently continue hosting more events than the new regulations permit.

The ordinance limits the number of events and people a winery can host, along with hours of operation and food service. Wineries must apply for special exception permits, which take into consideration acreage and road access, among a range of factors.

Fauquier essentially stopped regulating wineries for five years after the 2007 adoption of state law that limited local authority. Seeking to strike a balance between wineries and their neighbors, local government worked with Citizens for Fauquier County to draft several versions of a new ordinance.

Most of the county’s 26 wineries and virtually every Fauquier business organization vigorously opposed the version adopted five months ago. Meanwhile, CFFC and the Piedmont Environmental Council lobbied aggressively for adoption.

In addition to Barrel Oak’s lawsuit, 11 other wineries jointly sued the county after adoption of the new regulations.

The potential settlement with Barrel Oak would not affect the other lawsuit or the new ordinance, according to those familiar with the issues.

“I think you’re gonna see Barrel Oak offered a settlement” that recognizes the “vested” nature of its frequent events, Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) said.

Although Mr. Granger voted for the new ordinance in July, he three months later proposed amendments to soften the limits on events and hours. Only Lee Sherbeyn (Cedar Run District) supported the amendments, which failed, 3-2.

Mr. Sherbeyn had cast the lone vote against the new ordinance in July.

But, Chester Stribling (Lee District) has joined them in supporting a settlement with Barrel Oak.

“I was in agreement to try to reach a compromise,” Mr. Stribling said of the board’s November direction to the county attorney.

He regards a settlement with the county’s largest winery as preferable to amending the ordinance and “starting over” with contentious public hearings, Mr. Stribling explained.

Holder Trumbo (Marshall District) also said Friday he would like to reach a settlement.

“My sense is that all parties are trying to reach a reasonable compromise,” Mr. Trumbo said.

He acknowledged that Barrel Oak has established a business model with far more events than its peers.

Peter Schwartz (Marshall District), the board of supervisors’ greatest advocate for the new ordinance, said Friday night that he will consider a compromise.

But, Mr. Schwartz added: "I don't view it as a matter of law that Barrel Oak or any other winery has vested rights" to conduct more events, with later hours, than the new ordinance allows.

Even if the lawsuit gets settled, "it doesn't change anything in terms of signaling to other wineries or future wineries" that they will need to build their businesses on winemaking instead of events, he said.

Fauquier officials think most wineries can continue to operate without major changes under the new ordinance. But, the new regulations require the wineries — including Barrel Oak — to comply with:

• State health department regulations on septic systems. Many will need to expand those systems.

• Virginia Department of Transportation review of entrances and road access.

• County setbacks from property lines for buildings.

• County regulations for landscape screening and lighting.

Applying those new requirements, the county planning commission on Wednesday night voted unanimously to recommend board of supervisors approval of special exception permits for Barrel Oak to conduct 25 “special events” annually and for Fox Meadow Winery near Linden to conduct 18.

Previously, because of their agricultural zoning, many wineries legally built structures without county review. The special exception permit process changes that.

Barrel Oak's lawsuit against the county:

Complaint for Declaratory Judgment Filed 8-10-12
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jeheyns · December 11, 2012 at 10:50 am
Barrel Oak Winery is an exemplary business in Fauquier County. By purchasing the property that they did the owners have helped to keep large development at bay, preserve the land for agricultural use and helped to fight against a large movement by Dominion Virginia Power to put large power towers across the northern part of the county. On top of all of this, they have established a business that is extremely community-oriented as well as successful.
The daily business of BOW typically includes giving on some level to local charitable and nonprofit causes. Not once in all the time that I have known the owners and their business have I heard them say no to any worthy cause or community endeavor.
Of course, I can't ignore the fact that it's also simply a gorgeous place to visit with an atmosphere that is friendly, relaxing and unmatched. To bring residents and visitors of Fauquier County to Barrel Oak Winery is to show them what our county is and should be about: community support, successful business, partnership, and a landscape that can take your breath away.
I cannot imagine what would make the county supervisors want to discourage such a successful business that makes such a positive difference in our county. Having businesses like BOW helps with land preservation, tourism, agriculture and I would have to imagine that their level of success brings a fair amount of tax dollars to the county as well.
KeriS · December 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm
Barrel Oaks Winery is such a special place. Nestled in the rolling hills of picturesque Delaplane, BOW sets the benchmark for Virginia wineries and elevates Fauquier County with their success. Their hard work and innovation should be rewarded, not condemned. Their spirit of never resting on their laurels and passion is instilled in all aspects. BOW consistently breaks barriers of predictability with their business model. The flowing list of charitable events and programs is such a bar setting example and asset to this community, the local farmers, animal shelters, food drives, cancer benefits it is a mystery why the county would want to intrude and limit this type of vision! Fauquier County needs to recognize and be grateful for Brian and Sharon Roeder for making BOW their home for their vision and reward businesses in lieu of limiting. Please support BOW in their fight against the Farm Winery Ordinance so they can continue to mature, evolve and thrive in Fauquier County!
ChocFtn · December 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm
My company has been welcomed with open arms at BOW to donate a chocolate fountain for a fundraising opportunity for a local animal rescue group comprised wholly of volunteers. Small business to small business relationships are essential to all small business owners. Without the generosity of businesses like Barrel Oak Winery, organizations have little opportunity to raise essential funds to continue in their efforts to help others (both 4-legged and 2-legged.)

It is obvious that none of the members of the BOS is a small business owner. Nor are they economists. In these difficult economic times, one would assume the opportunity to generate additional revenue to be returned to Fauquier County would be welcomed. Unfortunately for the residents of Fauquier County, when the revenues from businesses dwindle and the cost of providing services to the residents increases, they will be the ones required to foot the bill in the form of higher taxes.

The best, most effective way to remedy the problem is to vote the members of the Board of Supervisors out of office. It is the surest way to make sure they understand.
tlamonia · December 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm
As a business owner and 12 year resident of Marshall, VA (3 miles from Barrel Oak Winery), I oppose the Farm Winery Ordinance and I appeal to the Supervisors to repeal it. Regarding the zoning restrictions contained in the ordinance, I have not heard any of my neighbors complain about Barrel Oak or any winery for that matter. Many of the folks who travel to the wineries stop in Marshall to eat or to get gas and that’s good for our local businesses. If the ordinance is left in place, it will discourage wineries from locating their businesses in Fauquier County due to the restrictions it imposes on the number of events that can be held at a winery and the convoluted permitting process it forces on the winery owners. The ordinance will reduce the amount of sales tax revenue for Fauquier County. It will also hurt the local suppliers who sell products and services to the wineries. The Farm Winery Ordinance does not represent the beliefs, wants, or needs of the affected local people or businesses and it needs to be repealed.
RonC · December 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm
Do the right thing. Save BOW.
Diane Burket · December 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm
When I first moved to Fauquier County, I heard that Fauquier was NOT business friendly. Unfortunately, the county and their gestapo rules and regulations has proven their lack of support for businesses over and over again. (Why do you think so many businesses have opened in other counties---not in Fauquier??!!) Barrel Oak Winery is a beautiful destination that supports Fauquier artisans, residents, charities and many small farms. Their patrons spend money in Fauquier County, eating at restaurants, staying at hotels and B&B's, buying products from local stores. BOW is a dog and kid friendly winery that pays a lot of taxes. As a Fauquier resident, I'm very happy that Barrel Oak Winery is so successful. We need more wineries in this county to share the tax burden. Of the dozens of times I've visited Barrel Oak, the winery was quiet, the music low and folks were truly enjoying the beautiful rolling hills. Yes---kids were playing and well-mannered dogs were there---but no laws were being broken, no neighbors were being bothered. The only house I could see from the winery was the John Marshall house and another home---all part of the Barrel Oak property. I don't know why neighbors would complain about the nice folks at Barrel Oak. There are no neighbors that can see or hear the winery. If they're complaining about additional traffic---wait until all the wineries are forced to close and they have 1,000's of condos on those farms. Then they'll really have something to bitch about! Fauquier County needs to stop telling small businesses how to do business. Stop driving business out of the county!
brianroeder · December 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm
Big farming is dying off and being replaced by small retail farming. The family farm winery owners of Fauquier County are retail farmers. We buy the land that no one else wants. We take on the extraordinary risks and costs of planting and sustaining the land for agricultural use. We are local and accountable to our customers. We are good neighbors. We share the experience of living off the land in the quality of the extraordinary products that we make ourselves and in the experience that we create and share. The winery ordinance is misguided. It and other similar ordinances attack the ability of all Fauquier small retail family farmers to share that authentic experience - and thereby to make a living off the land. It thereby destroys the ability of our community to keep land ownership in local hands and used for farming. That is why so many farmers are angry with the county and fighting this and other similar ordinances. We can only hope to find a resolution. If we lose this defense we lose everything because he ordinance strips us of our business model. A model that has earned NO complaints from neighbors but many attacks from a handful of people who don't live in eye or ear shot of us. If farmers cannot earn a living the land is lost forever. Our leaders need to truly understand this relationship and act accordingly.
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