County to consider Browntown events center

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders could again consider letting property owners hold events on agricultural land.

Michael and Judith Albarelli recently applied for a conditional-use permit to run an agricultural events center on their 86-acre property at 309 Broad Road Road. The Albarellis also applied to the Planning Department for a change in the county zoning ordinance that would allow such an events center on property in the agricultural district with a conditional-use permit.

The Planning Commission agreed Wednesday to hold public hearings Jan. 10 for the Albarellis’ requests.

The Board of Supervisors considered and ultimately denied a similar request by a group of investors in the historic Mint House property on Strasburg Road near Front Royal. Supervisors voted against their request after hearing complaints and concerns from neighbors. The zoning ordinance allows the owners to host certain activities on the Mint House property without a permit. Supervisors recently approved a request to put the Mint House property into permanent protective easement.

The Albarellis’ property zoned for agricultural use includes a single-family dwelling and forestland. The property lies surrounded by agricultural land and single-family dwellings. The site is bordered by approximately 300 acres of forestland owned by the applicants under the name Walnut Hill LLC.

The Albarellis noted in their justification statement that they want to host gatherings for up to 100 people and hope to begin this spring. The owners plan to have an on-site manager to ensure that events are conducted in adherence to contractual guidelines and to event policies. The Albarellis state they anticipate events to last 4-6 hours with all evening gatherings to end by 11 p.m. and the facility would not provide overnight accommodations. The applicants intend to use tents for events.

“We believe this venue is uniquely well suited to host events,” the Albarellis note in their statement. “Browntown is a historic community with both small town charm and surrounding mountain beauty. This makes an attractive location for people desiring a rustic and rural farming atmosphere for their gatherings.”

The applicants point out that the property lies at the foothills of Shenandoah National Park’s Browntown Valley Overlook surrounded by 300 acres of forest managed by the owners.

The venue features a lighted pavilion and an open carriage house set on a concrete pad. The lighted parking area can serve up to 40 vehicles.

Planning Department Director Taryn Logan noted in her report that proposed supplement regulations cover some concerns raised by staff members. A proposed regulation would restrict such events centers to properties 50 acres or larger. The county allows events facilities on parcels of 20 acres or greater in the rural residential zoning district.

The proposed text amendment defines an agricultural event center as a facility used for events typically held on a single day on 50 acres or more for which attendance is permitted by invitation or reservation. Events include, but are not limited to, meetings, weddings, dinners, conferences and receptions.

The ordinance amendment states that such events centers must be located on a lot or parcel adjacent to and have access to a state-maintained road. All exterior lights must consist of full cut-off fixtures and comply with the zoning ordinance. Centers must include adequate restrooms and provide on-site parking in an amount equal to one space per three guests. Operators must submit a plan to the Planning Department that includes information about parking, traffic control into and around the site, emergency access points, directional signs, outdoor lighting and bathrooms. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Fire and Rescue Services must approve the plan. The conditional-use permit specifies the maximum number of guests for the property. All music venues must sit at least 250 feet from all property lines. The property used for the center must comply with the county’s noise ordinance. The applicant must file with the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office for a business license prior to establishing the use.

Other recommended conditions include a prohibition on bonfires or the use of fireworks on the property and the construction of additional buildings for the events facility.