Plans for a farm brewery in the Clifton area that could have tapped into a growing thirst for locally made beer were scrapped last week because of vehement opposition from residents in the historic Northern Virginia community.
Now, Fairfax County officials who are eager for the tax revenue such businesses can generate are examining how to draw other entrepreneurs willing to bring part of the $19.6 billion craft beer industry to the affluent Washington suburb.
Marcus Silva, a Clifton-area resident who owns a popular local restaurant, proposed launching the Loudmouth Brewery on 20 acres that his ownership group bought for $1.3 million. Modeled on farm wineries, the brewery would rely on hops, barley and other ingredients grown on the site.
Although the land is zoned for residential use, farming is permitted. Under a 2014 Virginia law aimed at cultivating more farm breweries, that meant the property could be used as a place to brew, sell and taste ales and stouts with local flavor.
Silva’s proposal triggered intense anger from Clifton residents, who worried about extra traffic and drunk drivers in a neighborhood of stately homes and quiet country roads.
“You’re not wanted here!” someone shouted at Silva during a recent town meeting as he tried to explain his idea.
A few days later, Silva said the brewery plan was dead.
The project “was never meant to be a source of contention and angst amongst neighbors,” Silva said in a Facebook post. He did not respond to requests for further comment.
The fight prompted Fairfax officials to begin weighing how to regulate proposed farm brewery projects, which under state law already must obtain a liquor license and comply with local and federal environmental standards.
For example, neighboring Loudoun County, which has seen the successful launch of two farm breweries, requires them to be on land that is primarily agricultural, not residential, and on plots of 20 acres or larger.
“I think, in the right location, farm breweries make a lot of sense,” said Fairfax Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who represents the Clifton area and stayed neutral in the Loudmouth dispute. “But it needs to be in the right location.”
The brewery site is among nearly 51,000 acres in Fairfax where development is limited to protect watersheds and marshes. The area surrounding Clifton — which relies on Occoquan River aquifers for drinking water — can have one house per five acres.
Opponents of Silva’s project, and some county officials, called the breweries a form of manufacturing that could have negative effects on water tables in watershed conservation districts. Under the 2014 state law, farm breweries are allowed to produce up to 15,000 barrels of beer per year.
“You grow the hops and the barley, but after that, it’s all industrial production,” said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), whose district includes areas that are zoned to protect local watersheds.
In Loudoun, Kellie Boles, the county’s agricultural development officer, said brewery projects encountered some resistance from residents, but also generated support from people who wanted the economic benefits.
After a decade of steady industry growth, craft beer represents 11 percent of overall beer sales in the United States, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group. A farm brewery in Goochland, near Richmond, opened in 2013 — before the state law was passed — and is thriving, officials said.
Having a successful commercial enterprise “reduces the residential tax burden on our citizens,” Boles said, adding that four more farm breweries are preparing to open in Loudoun. “And, farms use less in services than they pay in.”
But residents of Clifton, a community of winding tree-lined roads in southwest Fairfax, still say, “no way.”
The town of 300 was built around a Civil War-era train stop and is part of a national historic district. About 7,000 people live in the surrounding area — known as Greater Clifton, located near the Prince William County border.
The area’s special residential conservation zoning designation was created in 1982 after a surge in development began to damage water tables. It has helped preserve a small-town atmosphere that residents fiercely guard.
That means that introducing something that could alter the local character “is like grabbing a high-voltage cable sometimes,” Clifton Mayor William R. Holloway said.
Even before the brewery was proposed, homeowners were frustrated by a surge in traffic that, they say, comes from the Paradise Springs Winery — a short drive from where the brewery was planned, just outside the town limits.
The winery is allowed under a 2006 farm winery law that also applies to residential areas where farming is permitted and was the model for the 2014 farm brewery statute.
Residents fought the winery in 2009, but they lost that battle. They feared another potential defeat when word spread last month about Loudmouth. Dozens of signs reading “Say NO! to Loudmouth” quickly appeared on local roads.
“If you bring in all these people who are going there to basically get drunk, you’re bringing a risk to the neighborhood,” said Mike Cartagena, who says a winery patron recently drove her van off the road and onto his property.
The homeowners lobbied Fairfax officials to oppose the brewery project, enlisting state Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R) and state Sen. George L. Barker (D) to seek a legal opinion from state Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) on whether the brewery statute was sound.
But before Herring could weigh in, Silva gave up. His farewell Facebook message left open the possibility that he will search for another brewery location.
“I look forward to having a pint of craft beer with all of you very soon . . . just somewhere else!” Silva wrote.