County’s wedding ordinance earns blessing

Association awards planners for enhancing economy while protecting neighbors’ quiet

September 28, 2005

The Hood River County Planning Department has crafted outdoor wedding guidelines that are now being used as a model statewide.

The Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA) recently presented director Mike Benedict and staff planner Josette Griffiths with a special award for the new code.

The Professional Achievement in Planning recognized the “innovation” approach used to enhance economic opportunities from weddings and similar events at farms, wineries and bed and breakfast (B&B) etablishments.

The county’s Article 73, which was finalized earlier this year, also protects the rural quality of life for neighbors while these events are taking place.

“Hood River County went the extra mile by conducting extensive community outreach and stakeholder communication. The result was a well-crafted ordinance that met with broad acceptance,” stated the Oregon APA’s 2005 merit awards program.

“I think this is an issue that a lot of counties are grappling with and we came up with a way to deal with it,” said Griffiths.

Lane Shetterly, director of the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, has fully endorsed Hood River County’s work. The ordinance has also received a Tourism Industry Awareness Award from Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office. It was designed following hours of meetings with affected landowners, agency heads and concerned citizens. The need for regulation became clear in 2004 after a resident complained about cars parked along Westcliff Drive while weddings were being held at the popular Lake Cliff B&B.

Benedict said the county did not have any rules in place to deal with commercial venues, which also included musical entertainment, at “mom and pop” businesses.

Proponents of the wedding industry predicted that the local economy would take a big hit if these ceremonies were prohibited. For example, a 2004 marketing study performed by the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce reflected that the average wedding party of 168 guests fed more than $500,000 into the local economy with a three-night stay. In 2002, outdoor weddings comprised 15 percent of all motel bookings within the county and the average cost of nuptials was $22,360. Each wedding, according to the chamber, involves services from about 12 other local businesses.

“We started out with a complaint and then sat down and discussed the best way to go forward,” said Benedict.

County officials wanted to support the growing popularity of outdoor weddings in the scenic Gorge. They also believed it was equally important to regulate parking and noise, particularly in residential zones. So, an advisory committee of stakeholders was put together to find a workable solution.

The 12-member group was made up of community members, agricultural representatives, business leaders, environmental proponents and B&B owners. For eight months, these individuals gathered information that could be incorporated into the new ordinance to protect tranquility in rural neighborhoods.

The result was a requirement that the landowner obtain a conditional use in order to host a gathering. And qualifying properties have to be used primarily as a farm, winery or B&B. No more than 300 guests are allowed under Article 73 at any one event, which can only take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Noise levels are restricted to 60 decibels and on-street parking is prohibited in some areas and limited in others.

Because of its attention to detail, Hood River County’s ordinance is now being used as framework for similar regulations within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area and other locations in Oregon.

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