Kluge-ville: Town meeting doesn't sway neighbors

All summer, Patricia Kluge's neighbors have been simmering about her plans to build a subdivision on 511 acres adjoining her vineyard. Last week Kluge launched a major public relations campaign with two town meetings to present her plans, answer questions, and sway the opposition.

The October 1 presentation didn't change Wanda Collier's mind. "It made it worse," says Collier, who was one of 50 or so who came to hear Kluge's side at PVCC's Dickinson Theater. "To have all these experts with their PhD's come in here– have they ever spent the night on this land?"

Kluge's team called in a land planner, a hydrologist, and a soil expert to make the case for building 28 homes on five- to seven-acre lots in Vineyard Estates in between vineyards, orchards, and sheep– an approach to combining agricultural and residential that requires a special permit because part of the property is an agricultural-forestal district, which currently requires minimum 21-acre lots.

Kluge told the audience how the project would provide a high-dollar, multi-generational crop and could employ as many as 100 people. "Most of what is good and profitable seems to elude the Scottsville community," said Kluge, offering the project as an example of "hope and prosperity for the southern part of the county" that will honor traditional farming values.

She also denied that money was the only motivator for the subdivision. "If it was, I could build 30 homes today by-right."

Bill Moses, Kluge's husband and CEO of Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards, called a lot of the opposition "misguided," and compared its tactics to those of "a good magician, who distracts you with one hand."

He was referring to the Piedmont Environmental Council, which, he told The Hook, is taking the approach that the development creates a dangerous precedent.

"They're trying to villainize the PEC," retorts PECer Jeff Werner. "They've singularly taken aim at the PEC, and they've singularly taken aim at me."

Moses told the PVCC crowd that 313 of the 511 acres would be put in a preservation tract that could never be developed. "I want somebody to stand up in the cold light of day and tell me why putting 65 percent of the land in a preservation tract is a bad idea," he said.

Werner calls the 65 percent "average" for rural preservation tracts. "We don't think they should break the rules," he says. "Sixty-five percent– whoopee."

After the hydrologist testified that the project's use of 600 to 800 gallons of water a day was a "proverbial drop in the bucket as far as groundwater use" and promised, "We'll make sure we don't steal anybody else's water," the remainder of the one-hour meeting was opened to questions.

The microphone went first to a Kluge supporter, John Marquis, who said he used to live at neighboring Blenheim, now owned by Dave Matthews' mom, Val, and that there was plenty of water on the tract.

Overton McGehee, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity, used his turn at the mic to ask Kluge to give two of the lots to Habitat to provide mixed income housing. "It will set a great example for other developers," he noted.

But neighbors who went into the meeting opposing the project were not moved. Collier's concerns about traffic, water supply, tree cutting, and wildlife disturbances were not assuaged.

"It's all about precedent," said a blonde woman pow-wowing with Werner after the meeting and who declined to give her name.

"If they determine that 65 percent preservation is the precedent," says Moses, "that would be a bar for the future, where a 50 percent preservation tract could be turned down. This certainly doesn't create a zero bar."

"It was quite a fantastic event," says Werner. "I heard that the [second] meeting Thursday night in Scottsville was not so polite. People had seen the County staff report."

County planners do not recommend approval of the Vineyard Estates project. Moses calls the staff report "absolutely outrageous."

He adds, "Did you like the part about protecting Blenheim? We've already removed two lots so they won't be so close to her property. We should all have 50 acres as a protective buffer."

After an August 26 deferral at the developer's request, the matter goes to the Albemarle planning commission October 7, after The Hook's deadline, and then on to the Board of Supervisors December 10.

"They don't have the votes," predicts Werner. "I'll be shocked if they get a favorable response."

Werner worries that after waves of neighbors have made plans to attend the meeting, Kluge and Moses will suddenly request another deferral. "When you've got a room full of people ready to have their say, it steals their thunder."

"We'll be there," insists Moses. "I don't know how the planning commission will decide, the PEC has made it such a hot potato politically. I think it will be decided by the Board of Supervisors."

Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses want to develop their farm.