Green Bluff’s popularity has become a point of contention among people who live there – some are welcoming new event businesses, while others want to preserve the rural character of the northeast Spokane County neighborhood.
The Spokane County Planning Commission on Thursday heard three hours of testimony on whether wedding and special-event businesses should be allowed.
A second issue is the appropriate hours of operation for events and harvest festivals that are currently allowed for only four days a week during parts of the growing and harvest periods.
Last season, complaints about loud wedding music went all the way to the county courthouse, prompting commissioners to ask for a review of what to do.
Commercial activity “just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Green Bluff resident Cicely Wright.
“To me, Green Bluff is a very unique treasure of Spokane County that we need to preserve.”
The debate goes back a decade or more, with some farm owners and businesspeople arguing that agricultural tourism and direct marketing to the public are the best answers for the sagging fortunes of small family farms.
The proposal before the Planning Commission would allow wedding and event centers and extend closing hours from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., in part to accommodate evening weddings.
The change would apply to all of the county’s small agricultural zones, although Green Bluff is the focus of the debate.
Commercial activities would be confined to rules set in 2002 that limit seasonal harvest festivals to Fridays through Mondays from the second weekend in June through the last weekend in October.
Thousands of people make the trip to Green Bluff every fall to enjoy the annual harvest festival and its hay rides, local apples, pumpkin picking, corn maze, craft booths and food. The line for a bag of pumpkin doughnuts can be a half-hour wait on weekends. The lines of traffic to reach the bluff at times are backed up a mile or more on weekend days in the fall.
Todd Beck, a member of the family that runs Beck’s Harvest House, said the evolution on Green Bluff has allowed his family farm to remain viable, and that event centers are the next step in that evolution.
Sunni Cannon, of Cannons Edge on Green Bluff, said she and her husband moved to Green Bluff nine years ago and recently started building an orchard to complement their event venue, which supplements their income.
She said she wants to be a good neighbor and apologized to a large audience at the planning workshop about a noise problem during an event last year. She said she is willing to compromise.
One idea was to limit amplification of music.
Kara Noyes, who identified herself as a professional in the wedding business, said that families seek out Green Bluff for their special occasions because of the country setting, mild summer evenings and gorgeous sunsets.
Guests normally include out-of-town relatives and friends – a boost to tourism in Spokane, she said.
Residents said they are concerned about traffic jams, fire protection, adequate water supply, wastewater pollution, light pollution at night, dust and alcohol-impaired driving.
Some farmers said the threat of drift from chemical spray on crops could become a source of trouble if visitors are exposed to it. Planning commissioners said they, too, are concerned about traffic and other issues involving public services and safety. The proposal would go to a public hearing before any action is taken. No hearing has been scheduled.
Winemaker Don Townshend, who is moving his winery to a new site on Green Bluff Road, said he would like to branch into special events. He said the winery is allowed in the agricultural zone. “If I’m going to do an event, I’d like my neighbors not to be unhappy,” he told commissioners.