A bill that would take away building code exemptions for farm breweries and wineries has a booming Loudoun industry worried.
Agricultural structures—including farm breweries and wineries, which the state classes as agricultural businesses—are currently exempt from the requirements of the Uniform Statewide Building Code, which has allowed many brewers and winemakers in Loudoun to renovate and repurpose barns and other agricultural structures.
HB 1224, introduced by House of Delegates Republican Caucus Chairman Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), would remove that exemption for farm wineries and breweries. It would give those businesses two years to retrofit or rebuild their structures in compliance with the strictures of state building code.
It has drawn opposition from Loudoun brewers and winemakers, Visit Loudoun, and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
“The whole intent to grow this rural economy was to repurpose and reuse these agricultural structures and not to affect the rural character and culture of western Loudoun,” said Dirt Farm Brewery owner Janell Zurschmeide. “And so what we did instead of building from the ground up was repurpose a really awesome old house, so our particular space is stone inside and out. Nobody’s arguing that public safety is not important—we just don’t think that we should be treated differently than any other agricultural business.”
Zurschmeide also co-chairs the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild’s Farm Brewery Committee. She said both the state guild and the Virginina Wine Council are keeping a close eye on the bill.
“I think if the true intent is for everybody’s public safety, I think that there should be some sort of a grant or something to help these industries,” Zurschmeide said. She called the bill “a real industry threat,” and pointed out if it impacts breweries and wineries, its effects could also ripple out to the farmers who sell to those businesses.
“Wineries and breweries draw visitors to Loudoun County, generating important tax revenue and adding to the overall quality of life for our residents,” stated Visit Loudoun president and CEO Beth Erickson. “As such, Visit Loudoun would oppose any legislation that would have a negative impact on the craft beverage industry in Loudoun County. We are working with our legislators to ensure they know the importance of our industry as an economic engine, both for the county as well as the Commonwealth.
According to Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Manager Eric Johnson, the chamber has already notified Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation of its opposition to the bill.
“Many of our more than sixty wineries and breweries feature historic buildings as part of the attraction on their property,” Johnson stated in a press release. “Those businesses that have been operating safely for years would be suddenly forced to either put in expensive upgrades to these historic structures or stop using their property altogether.”
“Farm wineries and breweries are a major economic success story for Loudoun County,” said chamber president and CEO Tony Howard. “Our farm wineries now physically represent Loudoun County’s external brand as ‘DC’s Wine Country.’ Our growing craft brewing industry attracts tourism from around Virginia as well as far beyond the borders of the Commonwealth. Needless legislation like this could be harmful for many of these outstanding businesses.”
The bill has been sent to the House General Laws committee, on which sits Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34). She represents the northeastern corner of Loudoun including the area of Lowes Island, along with areas of northern Fairfax County from Loudoun to Tysons and McLean.
Hugo represents portions of Prince William County and southern Fairfax County.