Spokane County commissioners voted 2-1 on Monday to set up new rules for weddings and other events at Green Bluff and other farming areas.
The decision requires annual temporary use permits for property owners to host weddings or other social events.
“You have to come back every year and show you have complied,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said during a hearing attended by Green Bluff residents, including those who have developed event facilities.
Mielke and Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn voted for the new rules. Commissioner Al French voted no and declined to specify the reasoning behind his vote.
O’Quinn said the ordinance seeks to balance personal property rights for those who want to provide the public with more reasons to go to Green Bluff with the desire to preserve farming.
The commissioners rejected proposals to allow event facilities as a limited use with no permit requirements or as a conditional use, which would require approval of the hearing examiner.
O’Quinn said obtaining a conditional use permit through the county hearing examiner would be costly.
Opponents of the ordinance said it will violate the state Growth Management Act by allowing farmland to be converted to another business use.
Craig Deitz, a Green Bluff resident since 1972, presented commissioners with a petition signed by 100 people supporting the ordinance.
He said event businesses are part of the growing trend of agri-tourism that is helping small farms remain economically viable.
“We have tens of thousands of people going up there,” he said of Green Bluff.
Every year, farms open their doors to the public for harvest festivals, selling both farm products and farm-related products. The festivals have food concessions, music and activities for families.
The changes approved Monday expand on special-event zoning rules enacted in 2002 to help small farmers through direct marketing.
The new ordinance limits events to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from the first weekend in May through the last weekend of October. Closing time would be 9 p.m. versus the current limit of 6 p.m.
No more than 25 events per season would be allowed at each venue. Events are defined as weddings, graduations, corporate gatherings, or private personal celebrations or similar occasions. The ordinance sets standards for parking, noise and fire safety, among other issues.
The rules say that event uses should “support, promote or sustain agricultural operations and production.”
To prevent overdevelopment, the ordinance limits the area being converted to events to no more than one acre in addition to the existing residence.
Mielke said the language in the ordinance is patterned after state law.