Nelson courthouse

The Nelson County Courthouse, the seat of local government in Nelson County. 

After several delays, public hearings and meetings over the course of a year and a half, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors voted at its Feb. 11 meeting to deny the extension of an Afton farm winery special use permit.

The vote was 2-2 with South District Supervisor Robert Barton abstaining from the vote because he said he needed more information about the project. The February meeting was the first Barton had attended since he was voted onto the board last year.

Todd Rath, partner with Rockfish Valley, LLC., who had filed for the extension in Sept. 2019, told the supervisors that he couldn’t start any construction until he got his final Virginia Department of Environmental Quality permits.

Concerns that have been voiced from neighbors and supervisors during the past several months have been that Rath placed a “for sale” sign on the property.

“With all this pushing and shoving, I threw it out there to see what the market was,” Rath said during the February meeting.

After the November Board of Supervisors meeting, the board decided to delay making a decision on whether or not to grant the special use permit extension.

The board delayed the vote on the extension because members were unclear as to when special use permits can be resubmitted if an extension is denied.

Rath filed for the special use permit in 2018 and the board of supervisors approved it in September 2018.

The original SUP allows Rath to construct a three unit building on the agriculturally zoned property, which would include a farm winery, restaurant, and remote retail establishment at 9485 Rockfish Valley Highway, Afton near Silverback Distillery.

According to county ordinances, any special use permit granted will expire after a year if no construction has been done on the property. There has been debate between Rath and the county over what counts as “construction.”

According to Nelson County Planner Dylan Bishop, when a motion fails, the request is automatically denied and the special use permit is now null and void.

The property may be used for by-right uses in the Agriculture district — any new special use permit requests must start the process from the beginning.

Any by-right uses can be approved administratively.

After the meeting, Rath said it has become clear to him that some board members do not really understand projects and what it takes to begin a project with engineering and money.

“There are so many agencies and hoops to jump through it would take an act of God to actually meet the requirement within the one year as they propose,” he said.

Rath said there have been buildings and projects approved in the county that were constructed one or two years after their expiration and nothing was canceled.

“My plans with the land are to move forward with by-right uses,” he said. “Pig farm, lodging, junkyard, take your pick, we will see where the wind takes us. I love our county and respect it very much. But when certain individuals can sit behind a table and act the way they have, it is where things start to go off the rails for me.”

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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