County revisits event code

Island County commissioners are considering changes to recently adopted rural event regulations that had been repeatedly recommended during the year-long code update process.

Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson discussed Wednesday potentially amending the rural event code to allow rural event centers, which are permitted for the highest level of activity, in commercial agriculture and rural forest zones.

This isn’t currently allowed in Island County code, but many people who commented during last year’s highly debated event code update asked that the rules change to help support farms.

“That is something that we have been advocating for, for years,” said Rita Comfort, owner of Comforts of Whidbey winery, which is located on land zoned commercial agriculture.

The Comforts and other farmers argued that more events on farms will help supplement income and support agricultural practices. However, residents in rural areas expressed concern over the impact to neighborhoods if high levels of activities, such as weddings, are allowed. Rural event centers are defined as a permanently established facility that operates on a continuous basis.

The Island County Planning Commission recommended allowing the event centers to be permitted on both commercial agriculture and rural forest land after hearing these arguments. However, then-Commissioner Rick Hannold and Johnson rejected the idea in the final vote on the code update, which took place in December.

“Having a rural event center is a whole different business model than having a farm,” Hannold said at the December meeting. Commissioner Janet St. Clair replaced Hannold as district three commissioner at the beginning of this month.

Johnson also expressed doubts the two uses were compatible, but Wednesday said she’s willing to look into the possibility as long as there are restrictions. She said she’s open to the idea on large properties with few neighbors to limit the impact.

The addition of rural forest is something she isn’t as concerned about, she said. Assistant Planning Director Beverly Mesa Zendt said with the restrictions already in place to maintain rural forest zoning, there isn’t much reason to exclude it.

Commercial agriculture zoning comes with state restrictions that require any other uses on the land to remain accessory to agriculture. Commissioners directed staff and the planning commission to look into possible scalable restrictions to ensure compliance with state law if the changes to code were made.

Price Johnson voted against the code update in December, saying she felt it was incomplete in part because she believed rural event centers should be allowed in the two zones.

The possible changes will be brought to the planning commission in February.

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