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Winery plans OK'd
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Above, Lawrence Penn looks over Seval grapes that will be ready to harvest in September at his home on Preston Road.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new business is brewing in Horsepasture.

Lawrence Penn Jr. said he plans to open a winery, and maybe eventually a small brewery, on almost two acres between Samuel Hairston School Road and Preston Road.

The Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the rezoning of the property from suburban residential to agricultural for Penn's project.

"Good luck," said Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan, the board's chairman. "We always like homegrown businesses."�

No opposition was voiced during a public hearing on the rezoning request.

Penn is interested in wine and has been making it at home in small amounts for a while. He decided to pursue his interest as a business venture after being laid off in February from his job with a demolition company.

Virginia has become the No. 2 wine-producing state in the nation, and many farmers have replaced tobacco crops with grapes, he said.

That is good for Penn. Although he grows a few grapes of his own, his vines are not enough to sustain a winery, he surmised, so he plans to buy most of the grapes he will use from farmers in the region.

"I don't foresee having the time to be a farmer and a winemaker, too," he said.

In a letter to the supervisors, Penn said he thinks no more than four or five trucks hauling grapes will enter and leave the property daily, so he does not expect truck traffic to cause problems in the neighborhood.

The winery will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. three or four days per week during the winter and daily during the summer for tours and wine-tasting, according to Penn.

With interest in viticulture growing among the public, "hopefully this will be something that brings people to Henry County" as a tourist draw, he said.

Penn does not plan on hiring employees, at least not anytime soon.

"This will be a family operation," he wrote in his letter to the supervisors, "with no more than four to five people working at a time."�

While plans are to erect a 2,000-square-foot building on the property, most of the time people will not see any activity or machinery outside the building, he said.

Penn said he hopes to open the winery by the start of the grape harvest season in late September or early October.

It takes about eight months to get wine ready for bottling, so he does not know how soon he will be able to sell his first bottles, he said.

Although he does not have any contracts yet, he plans to sell both red and white wine at convenience stores and other area outlets, he added.

The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals, when it meets at 1 p.m. today, will consider a special use permit that Penn needs for his business, according to county Planning Director Lee Clark.

Also Tuesday, the board of supervisors:

"¢ Declined to participate in a revenue-sharing program with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in the upcoming fiscal year.

The program mainly helps localities bring privately owned roads that the public can use - such as those leading to multiple homes - up to state maintenance standards, according to County Administrator Benny Summerlin.

As it has since fiscal 2002, the board declined to take part due to a lack of local funds that would be needed to match state funds from the program.

The vote not to participate was 3-1. Collinsville District Supervisor Jim McMillian cast the dissenting vote but did not say why. Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn and Reed Creek District Supervisor Tommy Slaughter were absent from the meeting.

"¢ Approved the extension of a contract for ANCHOR to continue operating the Henry County Schools' Transitional Day Program during the upcoming school year.

The county school board must consider the contract extension for approval.

The program's budget for fiscal 2010 is $105,893, the same amount that was budgeted for the current fiscal year. Administrative costs are borne by the county's Community Policy and Management Team, while administrative costs are borne by the school system, a document shows.

Deputy County Administrator Tim Hall said there are no changes in the contracts between this fiscal year and the next fiscal year.

"¢ Approved various documents required by the state to be considered for block grant funds to upgrade the South Street neighborhood in Bassett.

The documents include a local business and employment plan, which shows that the county and contractors will try to hire local contractors to do the work and buy supplies from local businesses, as well as a residential anti-displacement and relocation assistance plan, showing the county will help families whose homes are demolished find other places to live.

The county is seeking up to $1.4 million to make improvements to homes and streets in the neighborhood.

"¢ Approved the abandonment of a 40-foot right of way off the 1600 block of Stultz Road in the Collinsville District, as requested by Marie Seay.

The Virginia Department of Transportation did not object to Seay's request, according to county Planning Director Lee Clark.

No objection was voiced during a public hearing on the request.

"¢ Approved the installation of "Watch for Children" signs along Willie Craig Road and Woodberry Road, both of which are in the Blackberry District.

"¢ Appointed Reginald Hayes to the Community Policy and Management Team, and appointed Carol Nelson and reappointed Tony Millner to the Piedmont Regional Community Services Board after a closed session to consider possible appointments to local boards and commissions.


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