With the unanimous support of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Greenmont Hopworks will be expanding its hops processing business near Keene to support Virginia’s growing craft beer market.
Supervisor Rick Randolph sees the business as a chance to expand agriculture and tourism in the region. "
There will be more hops grown in Albemarle County as a direct result of the existence of this facility," said Randolph. "There will be people that are beer lovers who come here because of the existence of this facility."
"The Virginia hops market is growing in the same way the breweries and the market for craft beer has grown over the past several years," said Andrew Cox, business director Greenmont Hopworks. "Most of the hops grown in Virginia have been sold fresh, and that perishes within about twenty-four hours. Brewers are looking for a more processed product."
Cox has already been working with the Murray family at Greenmont Farm to process hops grown on-site. They need the special-use permit to start processing other farms' products.
"We could already do this to our own product," said Meghan Murray. "What we're requesting is the right to help other farmers do this too."
The prospect of a new, 10,000-square-foot processing facility worries some neighbors. Barbara West, who lives near the proposed site, wondered about the traffic making the Route 20 intersection with Plank Road more dangerous.
"My other big concern is one many may not have thought of, and that is smell." West added. "I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of Quaker Oats, and who would think processing friendly oats for wholesome oatmeal could possibly smell so foul."
Hal West, who walked with Barbara to the podium, suggested locating the new hops facility in an existing industrial structure, like the old tire plant in Scottsville.
"Behind the proposed site is a spring that feeds into a small stream, which eventually of course goes into the James [River] and into the Chesapeake [Bay]," he explained. "We were wondering whether or not federal or state agencies should be involved in inspecting [the site]."
Scott Clark, Albemarle County Senior Planner, has been guiding Greenmont Hopworks through the paperwork. He assured the Wests that county staff had thought about the smell and the environmental impact.
"Our understanding is that there is no outlet from the processing equipment to the outdoors," Clark said, adding that the Murrays have been drying their own hops without complaints from neighbors. "And again, we have a commitment from the applicants to protect the stream buffer at the rear of the property."
Murray rose to address the Wests’ concerns directly.
"Mr. and Ms. West, I'm sorry we weren't able to meet you at the community meeting,” Murray said. “Feel free to chat if you think of additional follow-up questions."
Murray emphasized that the facility's traffic will be low; they only expect to see fourteen vehicle trips per day in peak season. As for why the new hops facility will not be located in the tire factory, she said, "Perhaps naively, we only looked at property we owned."
The exchange seemed to convince the supervisors, who voted unanimously to approve a special-use permit for Greenmont Hopworks.