These are NOT just “Holiday Lights”
To those of us who live in Bluemont, and to those organizations who support this small, historic village in the westernmost part of Loudoun County, it is time to wake up, and not by the 15,000 lights currently illuminating the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains next to us. The recent commencement of the “lighting of the vines” by the Bluemont Winery and the Dirt Farm Brewery is yet another nail in the coffin of the demise of our quiet and serene way of life and is indicative of the rapid growth of commercialism, that if left unchecked, will result in our community looking like Tysons Corner.
My husband and I moved here to western Loudoun County almost 18 years ago so that we could leave behind the lights, noise, and traffic of Arlington County. We own 16 acres at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and live on one of Loudoun’s historic and scenic dirt roads. We are disheartened regarding the ongoing encroachment of commercial establishments here in our small village which now threatens the serene lifestyle that we have enjoyed for many years.
Within a three mile radius of our home, we now currently have a winery, 3 breweries, 2 event type venues, and a cidery. The traffic generated by these establishments has inundated our community. Cars waiting to turn off Rt.7 west onto Clayton Hall Road are lined up on Rt.7 itself. Cars have been parking illegally along Rt.7, and people are walking along that busy highway in order to get to these businesses. It is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, or worse yet, killed by someone who has had too much to drink.
We and twenty four of our neighbors are currently involved in litigation with the new owner of the farm next door to us. This individual, who does not even live here, is suing us because of our restrictive covenants. These covenants do not permit him to turn the farm into a “Country Inn,” which would allow him to hold multiple events over the course of a year, involving hundreds of cars, loud music, and lights.
On top of all this, the owners of the winery and brewery up on the mountain have decided once again to light up the mountain with a hideous display of fifteen thousand lights, mounted on the vines and hops. From our front porch, it looks like an airport parking lot or landing strip, and can be seen from miles away. The lights are so bright that last year, when this light show intrusion was started, several neighbors living closer to them were unable to sleep without closing their blinds and hanging black out curtains.
Further, the lights threaten the wellbeing of the wildlife of this area. For example, nocturnal animals sleep during the day and are active at night. Light pollution, such as what has been caused by the thousands of LED lights placed on the vines and the hops, radically alters their nighttime environment by turning night into day. Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to wander off course. So while the lights may draw the customers to the vineyard and brewery, they potentially can have a devastating effect on our environment.
I filed a complaint with the Loudoun County Zoning Department last year, asking that the County investigate what was clearly a violation of the County’s lighting ordinance. The County declined back then to investigate, closed my case, and said that it would permit the lights as they were for “the holidays.” The lights are back on as of last night (November 19, 2020) and we are not yet even in the holiday season.
There is no dispute that the lights violate Section 5-1504 Light and Glare Standards of the County’s zoning ordinance. Moreover, there is no provision in the County’s zoning ordinance that permits the County to close a blind eye and ignore its own ordinance if the violating lights are for the “holidays.”
We have no issue with people trying to make a living, especially in these turbulent times. The owners of these establishments will claim that the lights are to support their various charitable events. That may well be, but those patrons who truly want to support the various charities for which the winery and the brewery are holding these fund raisers will come, regardless whether there are lights, or not. We have endured the gradual encroachment of more lights and noise coming from these establishments. But when the lights, noise, and traffic generated by them directly affect the quiet enjoyment of this beautiful place in which we have lived these many years, we can no longer remain silent. Enough is enough.
Loudoun County and those of us living here in Bluemont need to decide whether we want to retain the heritage of this beautiful scenic place, or whether we are willing to have western Loudoun to be another Arlington County. Turn off the lights.
Virginia A. Baxter