It may not be a perfect marriage, but a proposed commercial wedding venue ordinance is headed to Afton City Council.

Afton Planning Commission approved the proposed interim use, despite objections from the public, during its Jan. 6 meeting.

The proposed ordinance amendment would allow for a commercial wedding venue as an accessory use with an interim-use permit in the agricultural district and in the rural residential district on parcels greater than 20 acres.

Some of the performance standards for the interim use will include: no commercial kitchen; use of a licensed caterer only; use of licensed bartender; no overnight accommodations; the property will be the primary residence of the property owners; events limited to 200 guests unless specified; noise regulations; and setbacks.

The interim-use ordinance would go into effect on June 1 and will expire on Sept. 30, 2015 – a period of 16 months.

Public comments

Last Monday, Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance amendment where several Afton residents voiced concerns over the proposal.

Much of the public comment related to Afton residents Tom and Clare Hoelderle’s plans to open a commercial wedding venue, Avonlea Farm, at their property on Manning Avenue.

Kris Heddle, a neighbor of the Hoelderles, voiced numerous concerns including noise and safety.

“A wedding is a giant party,” she said. “It’s loud, it can get disruptive and oftentimes people leave drunk and then they’re on our roads.”

Additionally, Heddle, who said she represented the views of many of the other neighboring properties, said she was frustrated with a commercial use being forced upon them.

“If you’re going to operate a commercial business, buy a commercial piece of property,” she said. “Don’t come into our residential neighborhood.”

Heddle also questioned what the intent is following the expiration of the interim-use permit.

Specifically, she wanted to know how the city will determine whether or not the venture was successful.

“A test of a startup business isn’t really a test because it’s going to take them time to build up their clients,” she said, “but by that point the floodgates are already open.”

Tom Hoelderle said it is his and his wife’s intent to run a successful business while still being good neighbors.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to harm our property or hurt our neighbors,” he said.

A split commission

Following the public hearing, Planning Commission members expressed their individual opinions of the proposal.

Commissioner Mark Nelson said he was in favor of the ordinance amendment because he believes a commercial wedding venue can be run in a successful way.

“I certainly don’t want to inflict any noise problems or any other problems in the (rural residential district),” he said, “but outdoor music can be done in a way that doesn’t create complaints.”

Nelson said he believes the measure of success for a trial use like this would be the number of complaints.

“I think the criteria for success should be no complaints,” he said, “but if there are complaints, that ought to be dealt with.”

Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen voted against the amendment and voiced strong opposition. She said she opposes commercial wedding venues being allowed in the rural residential district.

“A commercial use is not residential,” she said.

Additionally, Ronningen said she felt the ordinance amendment was drafted specifically for the Hoelderles.

“It seems like a workaround and I find that distasteful,” she said.

Ronningen also said she felt the process was rushed.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” she said, “and I’m sorry it has gone this far.”

Commissioner Kris Koptizke said he shared some of Ronningen’s concerns with “spot zoning,” but that he also felt like the ordinance was a good opportunity to gather some data.

“We haven’t found a lot of examples anywhere else,” he said. “Let’s try it.”

Commissioner Judy Seeberger mirrored some of Kopitzke’s comments.

“It is a way to do our homework,” she said. “I think it’s worth a shot.”

Commissioner Adam Smerud said he was torn on the issue, but ultimately he voted in favor of the ordinance.

“There are no guarantees on whether it is going to work, but it is worth a go,” he said. “It’s a chance to be progressive.”

Commissioner Sally Doherty, who voted against the amendment, said she would have liked to have a firmer process for determining whether or not the use was successful in the end.

“There has to be a way to get a pulse on it,” she said.

Smerud said measuring success can be a tricky thing.

“The measure of success to one person is going to be different than the measure of success to another person,” he said.

The commercial wedding venue interim-use ordinance will go before City Council on Jan. 21.