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Neighbors Take Bluemont Brewery Fight To ABC

© Leesburg Today - 08/26/2015

A planned farm brewery and the neighbors who want to prevent it from opening have mixed to form a raucous cocktail of sorts in Bluemont.

Businessman Marty Dougherty is working to open B Chord Brewing Co. on Foggy Bottom Road, but a group of area residents are trying to stop him from being able to obtain a liquor license he needs to operate.

Dougherty, who founded broadband firm Roadstar Internet Inc., said Monday that he hasn't heard any negatives from Loudoun officials as he's been setting up his new business, which is perhaps not surprising considering the county generally looks favorably upon such breweries that are allowed on agricultural land so long as the beer they produce is made with crops grown on site.

But Dougherty said that when he put up poles as part of an effort to grow hops on his 26-acre farm, he began getting pushback from neighbors.

""They didn't like those poles,"" he said.

He said it seems that some in the rural community want only operations that deal with ""horses and nothing but horses.""

They bring up concerns about noise and what could happen if patrons tasting beer at the brewery have too much to drink, Dougherty said.

And they worry that the business will use so much water that it will drain their wells.

Dougherty, however, said that contention is false: ""Are they kidding?""

For one thing, he said, the opposition doesn't have any evidence on which to base their claims because he hasn't opened and farm breweries weren't allowed in Loudoun until earlier this year.

""They're just trying to scare people,"" he said.

Dougherty said he met recently with county Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) and told him that he's willing to work on a compromise with those in Bluemont who are opposed to B Chord.

But he said that it seems that the other side won't agree to any give-and-take. Their opposition is well-coordinated, he said, going so far as to send out 5,500 postcards encouraging residents to tell the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to deny his license.

""I've never seen such an unbelievably vicious attack on a businessman in the county,"" Dougherty said.

Even with the hubbub, though, he said he hasn't had second thoughts about his plans for B Chord.

""I'll be glad to have a fight,"" he said.

Kim Rapp, however, doesn't look at that fight as personal or as a not-in-my-backyard situation.

She lives a couple of miles away from Dougherty's farm, and she said she and those in her camp have genuine fears about property values declining, safety and water use.

Rapp said no one wants to harm Dougherty's company, but she's worried that farm breweries aren't so much agricultural operations as ""road bars."" And if the customers and commerce there work to the detriment of existing equestrian businesses in the area, that's not fair, she said.

""Is this really the right location?"" Rapp asked.

Many people bought property in Bluemont for the peace and quiet, she said: How would they ever sell their land later if they're next to a drinking establishment that holds events and increases traffic?

""It's not all about horses,"" she said.

The concerns are legitimate, Rapp said. Another is this: What if a customer visits B Chord and other alcohol-serving businesses in the area and then drives drunk, endangering the life of her teenage son?

Rapp said about 80 residents attended a recent meeting with state and local officials and expressed their views. She also confirmed that her group mailed postcards, but she said she didn't know the exact number and that the move was made to better educate neighbors about how they can register their objections to B Chord with the Virginia ABC.

The designated time for comments on a potential alcohol license is up this week, she and Dougherty said, and the next step will be for ABC to hold a hearing on the matter.

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Rapp said she believes that the state legislation allowing farm breweries didn't do enough to regulate them. She pointed out that the endeavors don't have to meet the same kinds of standards as other businesses.

Unison resident Mitch Diamond also noted that similar anxiety has been expressed around the state about farm breweries.

""The laws protect them so long as they demonstrate some small token of agricultural operation, but the money comes from events, parties and drinking,"" he said in an email to Leesburg Today.

""I think this is going to be a growing issue as some see these establishments as an economic boon to the county and state and a way to create value in rural land and thus protect our rural landscape, while others see them as a growing blight, a threat to public safety, an environmental problem and a danger to the basic character of our rural neighborhoods.""

The issue has been growing in the Hillsboro area for months as residents on Ashbury Church Road have opposed Loudoun's first farm brewery, Old 690 Brewing Co.

They have brought up many of the fears that Rapp articulated, including complaining recently about a sewage-disposal connection that wasn't in compliance with state and county regulations, according to the Loudoun County Health Department.

Resident Maura Walsh-Copeland also succeeded in getting Visit Loudoun, the county's tourism agency, to remove language about Old 690 from a brewery marketing campaign, citing the ongoing contentions of the Ashbury Church neighbors group.

Charlie Altman, another resident who has spoken about Old 690 frequently, said he and his neighbors now look forward to rainy weekends because of the ""billowing clouds of dust"" present when it's sunny and the brewery is busy.

""The rainy and colder days also keep the noise down because all the bar patrons have to stay under the overhangs of the building and can't roam around the lawns as freely (unfortunately they can't all fit inside),"" Altman said in an email. ""They do enjoy our neighborhood on the sunny days, though. The environment we pay taxes for has been sold to Old 690's patrons, and they're making lots of money on it.""

He said he and his neighbors, though, feel stuck.

""We can no longer live here happily, and we cannot move,"" Altman said. ""Who would buy our houses with that next door? I would not have bought my house had I known.""

Despite such criticism, Old 690 co-owner Mark Powell maintains that he wants to be a good neighbor and follow all applicable regulations.

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