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February 15, 2013

Fauquier supervisors settle Barrel Oak Winery lawsuit

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Barrel Oak Winery owner Brian Roeder gets a show of hands from supporters in the meeting room Thursday night. Dozens more watched on closed-circuit TV in two conference rooms at the Warren Green Building.
Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Jim Moorman of Hume implores the supervisors to delay their vote a month to allow review of the resolution made public just 26 hours before Thursday's meeting.
Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Mr. Roeder says the legal battle has cost Barrel Oak $150,000 and "my health has suffered."
Photo/Lawrence Emerson
"We do the best we can in a sea of controversy," Supervisor Peter Schwartz says, with Holder Trumbo listening.
Mr. Roeder handed out instructions for supporters and sealed envelopes to redeem for "special thank you" gifts.
It’s fair to the county, fair to Barrel Oak and fair to citizens . . . . It allows Barrel Oak to continue to be Barrel Oak.
— Merle Fallon, winery's attorney
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
For about 20 seconds Thursday night, the majestic old Warren Green Building in Warrenton rocked like a small-town high school gym during a pep rally.

Unable to fit in the bandbox, 42-seat meeting room downstairs, dozens in a conference room above responded to Barrel Oak Winery owner Brian Roeder’s request.

Watching a big TV, they stomped the floor like giddy freshman.

The building shook.

Mr. Roeder used e-mail blasts and Facebook posts to pack the board of supervisors meeting with almost 100 supporters of his challenge to the county’s new Farm Winery Ordinance.

After a 50-minute public hearing, the supervisors voted, 4-1, to approve a settlement in Barrel Oak’s lawsuit against the county.

Technically, the supervisors OK’d a special exception permit that gives the county’s largest winery more than the ordinance, adopted in July, would allow.

Opponents waged a futile, last-minute attempt to delay the vote.

The county posted the “alternative resolution” (embedded below story) on its website just 26 hours before Thursday night’s meeting, they noted.

“We’re being presented a commercial, public relations campaign,” protested Jim Moorman. “I urge you to postpone this a month. Otherwise, there are gonna be a lot of hurt feelings.”

A lawyer who lives near Hume, Mr. Moorman suggested the process excluded citizens who had studied winery issues, along with a state law change in 2007, to help craft a new ordinance over the course of five years.

“On a number of things, you’ve gone beyond the winery ordinance . . . to give a special exception in perpetuity,” he added. “I ask you, I really beg you, to put this off a month. Let the people involved in the discussion have a say.”

The board heard similar pleas from:

• Piedmont Environmental Council representative Julie Bolthouse.

• Veteran slow-growth advocate Kitty Smith of Delaplane.

• Delaplane resident John Richardson, a transportation lawyer who has pushed for tighter winery regulations.

But, with Peter Schwartz (Marshall District) out front, the board majority had hammered out the agreement in a series of closed-door meetings over the last five months.

Barrel Oak filed suit in August.

Negotiations with the Delaplane winery accelerated in November.

Warrenton lawyer Merle Fallon, representing Barrel Oak, and County Attorney Kevin Burke signed an agreement that put the lawsuit on hold in Fauquier’s circuit court.

In a final flurry of activity Wednesday, the parties completed the agreement, which includes:

• 25 “special events” a year, the maximum allowed under the ordinance.

• 12 additional “special events” annually.

• Longer hours than the ordinance permits.

• Permanent approval of the resolution, subject to winery compliance with all county ordinances.

• Inspection of the winery’s financial records to verify an established pattern of events dating to 2009.

• Verification of the winery building’s structural integrity, because it required no building permit as an agricultural structure.

• Expansion of the septic system.

• Screening with more evergreen trees.

• Compliance with any Virginia Department of Transportation requirements for the entrance.

Barrel Oak proved an established level and pattern of business activity, Mr. Fallon said. In the lawsuit, winery owners Brian and Sharon Roeder charged that Fauquier failed to consider — as state law requires — the economic impact of the new ordinance.

“It’s fair to the county, fair to Barrel Oak and fair to citizens,” Mr. Fallon said of the settlement in brief remarks to the board. “It is less than Barrel Oak believes it could get through court action.

“It allows Barrel Oak to continue to be Barrel Oak.”

Twelve supporters described the winery as a warm, welcoming place that fosters friendships, boosts Fauquier tourism, builds community, preserves agriculture, provides jobs and hosts fund-raisers for good causes that range from animal rescue to wounded veterans and volunteer fire and rescue to education in war-torn Afghanistan.

Mr. Roeder handed out instructions to supporters, who started arriving at 5:30, an hour before the meeting.

He asked for brevity, with an emphasis on speakers who live near the winery or who have local businesses.

The photocopies included the suggestion for supporters upstairs to “stamp the floor” when he gave the cue.

Before that, Mr. Roeder asked the board for more than three minutes, the standard speaker’s time, to make what amounted to his closing argument in the case.

“I feel like George Wilson in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” he began.

His speech covered stewardship “of 270 acres of rural farmland. Upon this land are 23 horses, 35 head of cattle, 22 — soon to be 28 — acres of grapes, nine alpacas and five dogs.

“We are also restoring the John Marshall Oak Hill estate (next door). We also have a large winery, producing 10,000 cases of wine. We pay for all of this by selling that wine.

“We sell that wine by providing a great product, wrapped in a great customer experience. That experience includes live music, light food fare, the occasional gourmet food cart, local artisanal goods, great service . . . great views and a very accepting place that does a lot for our community.

“Take away that experience, and our business fails.”

Mr. Roeder claimed the ordinance “has had a devastating impact upon our business and our family. I have been personally attacked in the paper and my health has suffered. Business has been off, due to this controversy. Bank refinancing has been delayed under the cloud of these restrictions.

“And, my wife and I have had to sell a significant amount of our equity to pay for the $150,000 in surveying, engineering and legal fees necessary for our defense.

“Yes, we have a large farm and a popular business. But, we are not wealthy, by any means, and our debts are substantial.”

He thanked the supervisors for their work to reach the settlement.

Cheering and stomping preceded the opponents’ testimony.

“For better or worse, the winery issue and the winery ordinance have been a large part of my life the last 5-1/2 years, since I joined the board,” Supervisor Schwartz said before the vote. “It’s been very, very controversial.”

He described the effort to strike “some sense of balance” between the wineries’ business interests and “reasonable quality of life” for their rural neighbors.

“It’s not an easy exercise to find that balance, and we do the best we can in a sea of controversy.”

He defended the ordinance but acknowledged Barrel Oak’s unique nature and established pattern of business.

“I view the alternative resolution as a fair and reasonable settlement,” Mr. Schwartz said. “I think it’s time for the county to move on.

“I’m mindful of the request for more time. (But) we have been discussing these many issues for years.”

Chris Granger (Center District), Lee Sherbeyn (Cedar Run District) and Chester Stribling (Lee District) also voted for the settlement.

Chairman Holder Trumbo (Scott District) dissented.

Each Barrel Oak supporter took home a sealed envelope, good for a “special thank you gift” when opened at the winery.

Alternate BOW Resolution by Fauquier Now

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FauquierNative · February 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Wonder how many of those "foot stompers" the Roeders rewarded with gifts were actual Fauquier residents (as opposed to just "Facebook friends").
Mr. Roeder, you are no George Bailey (and that's George BAILEY, not George Wilson). Also, don't blame the BOS for your health concerns. Looks like that is your responsibility.

I might have a more generous attitude toward the Roeders business concerns if they hadn't plopped that hideous monstrosity on top of a wide open hillside right next to a key Fauquier historic site. As with all investments, gambles, business ventures, and plain old employment--they are subject to all kinds of outside forces including government regulation for the good of the whole community (and I mean actual community, not the "community" tourists seem to have to go to a winery to find).

dlphnlvr68 · February 16, 2013 at 2:21 am
We are residents of Prince William co. We have recently been introduced to the Virginia Wine country. Time and time again we seem to alway end up at Barrel Oak. One thing that kept us going to Barrel was due to the fact they allow animals. We met the wonderful staff ,and met Brian and Sharon. It was wonderful! It was like walking in the door of a family members house. It also holds a special place for my husband I now because we were engaged right before christmas last year. It is a warm, loving relaxing place to go. Brian and Sharon have worked soo hard to see their dreams come alive. When we go to Barrel Oak, Our money is spent in Marshall. This is just about every weekend and that means gas, dinners lunch, support the local businesses by buying other local products. The grocery store so we can buy items for a picnic. We have met more wonderful people ever at Barrel Oak, then anywhere else. Everything about BOW is great, the staff , the customers, and Brian and Sharon, the whole atomospere just speaks for itself. There were no bribes, there were no meeting before the hearing. The people who showed up to the meeting, showed up to support Brian and Sharon and for what Barrel Oak stands for: COMMUNITY! That's What Bow is about and that what we as supporters are about! Thank You smile
julinav426 · February 16, 2013 at 12:28 am
Although we live in Fairfax County we are frequent visitors to Faquier County due to our love of BOW.
BOW is more than a winery, it's a family...a community...we love every minute that we spend there at both the winery and the new John Marshall house. Brian and Sharon have lovingly created not only excellent wines but a friendly, family oriented place to enjoy them. We have been long-time visitors to many Virginia wineries, but in BOW we have found a home-a place we happily return to over and over again to visit with friends and enjoy wonderful wine and a welcoming atmosphere!
Lancaster County PA · February 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm
I have only been to BOW once and can't wait to return. I live in PA and was introduced to BOW by my brother and his wife who live in Winchester, VA. Our family had a great experience. There's nothing like great food, excellent wine, a beautiful view, and friends and family to share it with. Congratulations, I look forward to a visit this spring. Thank you for supporting the many causes you do throughout the year.
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