County approves event permitting for Whidbey farms, agricultural properties

The Island County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance last week which allows permitting for events on agricultural properties.

The policy applies to events taking place on advertised properties for uses such as weddings, reunions, graduations and food events for a fee or other commercial use that may include more than 50 attendees. It is not the county’s intent to regulate private parties hosted by property owners, the ordinance states.

The rule outlines the temporary-event permitting process, which would establish basic guidelines for staff to follow in reviewing permit applications, and serve as an interim provision until a complete update to the Comprehensive Plan is completed in 2014, when permanent standards can be adopted.

Planning Director David Wechner said he was approached by a group of residents who asked the county to come up with a set of guidelines that would both allow for the events but protect adjacent properties.

“Our goal is to give a predictable process to people in the industry, but we’re not so onerous that we are making it impossible to engage in this industry,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said.

Chef Vincent Natress, who owns a catering business and a small agricultural parcel in Bayview, thanked the commissioners during public comment for allowing farms to tap into the island’s event industry.

“It’s important that we address and find a way to have more properties used for special events,” Natress said. “It’s a growing industry that allows a lot of revenue to enter the county.”

The temporary permit events are limited to 150 people and valid for up to 10 events per year. Events must cease at 10 p.m. The property’s size must be a minimum of five acres and a minimum dimension of 300 feet in width or length. Property owners must be present on site during the event if the residence is a rental.

The commissioners approved some additional language to the ordinance suggested by Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. She proposed events on parcels smaller than five acres can be considered on a case-by-case basis and that the type and scope of the event will factor into its approval.

“It’s an important industry for our community and it’s important to balance the needs of our neighborhoods with the growing needs of this industry,” Price Johnson said.

The temporary-use permit is valid for a calendar year and may be renewed annually if permit conditions were met the previous year.

To be eligible for a permit, applicants must submit a management plan for each event, which includes plans for parking, sanitation, noise, lighting, emergency access points and identifying the structures to be used. Some structures may be ineligible according to building code guidelines.

Application forms are provided by the county.


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