Stanislaus County rejects wedding venues change

The public events and outdoor entertainment ordinance no one likes died Tuesday morning on a 4-1 Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors vote.

County staff prepared the change to try to resolve a controversy over commercial outdoor wedding venues on agricultural land.

Several outdoor wedding businesses have sprung up over 20 years in agricultural zones. They have drawn complaints from neighbors who say the noise, litter and traffic are disruptive. Farm advocates contend that weddings disrupt farm activities such as spraying.

The wedding businesses are illegal in agricultural zones under current county law, according to enforcement officials.

The ordinance change attempted to set standards for size, hours, noise, visual screening, setbacks from residences and the number of events allowed. It wound up pleasing no one.

Opponents of the wedding businesses, including farm representatives and neighbors of existing venues, felt the ordinance was a foot in the door to allow more businesses unrelated to agriculture in ag zones. Wedding business owners said the ordinance was so strict, it would put the venues out of business.

Both sides made their case Tuesday.

"The ordinance puts every one of us out of business. There's no way we can comply," said Joy Bloomingcamp of Bloomingcamp Ranch, just east of Oakdale. She listed five provisions in the proposed ordinance that would make her wedding venue illegal and said the ordinance designed to protect agriculture does the opposite.

"With the restrictions, we would be very tempted to sell and let someone else do what- ever they wanted," Bloomingcamp said, noting that her 130-acre property is just a quarter mile from Oakdale's sphere of influence.

Constance Robinson, who owns a wedding venue on River Road near Oakdale, said any new ordinance should include those holding political fund- raisers on ag land, not just weddings. "It's not fair to target certain industries," she said.

Dave Linn of Turlock is a neighbor of one of the venues, and he argued to keep the existing ordinance intact.

"They are in a business they are not allowed to be in. They took the liberty to build improvements without permits," he said. "They are expecting us to give up our rights for their personal gain."

Businesses such as wine- tasting or cheese shops make some sense in an agricultural zone, said Vern Fabry, neighbor of an Oakdale venue. "No one is growing weddings," he added.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Dec. 20 to reject the proposed ordinance and beef up enforcement of the existing ordinance.

The supervisors agreed Tuesday.

Supervisor Bill O'Brien cast the lone vote against rejecting the ordinance. He said his vote was a token of support for the idea that a solution could be found that would allow the wedding venues, rather than an endorsement of the proposed ordinance.

"I do not see where the ordinance solves the problem," Supervisor Dick Monteith said. "We are in a hole, and we better stop digging."

Other supervisors noted that existing ordinances allow people to have weddings and other events in agricultural zones with a permit from the Sheriff's Department. They just can't do it on a regular basis as a commercial business.

"There are many places to have outdoor weddings," Supervisor Jeff Grover said, including public parks in unincorporated areas. "You just can't have a business."

Board Chairman Tom Mayfield agreed. "How do we tell the next guy, who wants to put in an auto shop, no? We have to have consistency," he said.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.