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Rural event centers win commissioners' approval

Weddings, concerts and festivals held in rural areas are now OK under Island County ordinances, but only if the gathered crowd is no larger than 200 people.

An ordinance amending the county's zoning law to provide for the existence and use of "rural event centers" was approved by the county board of commissioners earlier this month, though some, including Bill Thorn, found the resolution too strict in areas.

During a meeting on Dec. 15, Thorn criticized a language restricting the number of people allowed to attending a specific rural center event, saying a limit of 200 heads is too few given the space provided by certain rural locations.

"It strikes me as being too few," Thorn said. "A number of 500 would be a far more appropriate number."

Coupeville resident Bob Whitlow agreed with Thorn's assessment, saying during the meeting that he's been involved with a number of big weddings in the county where overcrowding hasn't been a problem.

"Two hundred people on two acres of land will rattle around," Whitlow said. "That's a lot of room."

Whitlow asked that the commissioners affix a new number to the amendment now rather than later on down the road, "so we don't need to come back for special permission."

Rural event centers are defined in the county Comp Plan as "permanently established (facilities) in a rural location and setting that operate on a continuous basis to accommodate the temporary assembly of people for special functions," such as weddings or picnics. Sites would conform to local rural characteristics, providing commercial opportunities and promoting tourism in the county.

Public hearings regarding rural event center amendments to the county's comprehensive plan were held in May. No public comments were received by a June 4 deadline.

Attendance at rural events was not the only issue that arose at the meeting, during which several comp plan amendments were discussed. Whitlow also objected to a statute requiring a minimum 50-foot buffer for off-street parking at rural events.

Why, he asked, was such a large buffer required when minimum parking buffers in residential zones are only 5 feet.

"I don't understand what is being attempted here," Whitlow said. "I think this is not realistic. I don't understand what's behind it."

Thorn told Whitlow that the 50-foot buffer is intended to reduce the impact of rural events on surrounding properties.

"A lot of cars coming and going is a lot of disruption to me," Thorn said.

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