By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors will soon be faced with a decision to permit another new wedding venue in the county, months after they approved one for John and Linda Cleaveland in spite of mass opposition from neighbors.
“We feel that the addition of our wedding venue will only enhance the reputation of the area by bringing to the attention of the wedding participants and their guests the beauty of the county,” Carolyn Chapman wrote in a letter accompanying her zoning application.
As a representative of Tidewater Realty, in Norfolk, Va., she submitted a major special-use permit application in December for a wedding and event venue at Huntington Farm, on Cherrystone Road, near Cheriton.
The real-estate company is a family-owned business run by five sisters who inherited Huntington Farm from their father.
The farm occupies 14 acres in an agricultural-rural business zone and has a water view, like the Cleavelands’ 65-acre property near Franktown, which was granted permission in July for use as a wedding venue.
The Cleavelands were permitted to host up to 200 guests per event on their property. Tidewater Realty requested permission for up to 270 guests per event.
The application proposed allowing music to be played at events until 10 p.m., in accordance with Northampton County’s noise ordinance. Each event would last until 11 p.m. or midnight, the application stated.
An event tent no larger than the 30 feet wide and 40 feet long could be used onsite, it added.
Cathy Plant, of the Virginia Department of Health, said VDH would approve the use of portable toilets with hand-washing sinks, provided the use is temporary.
The bathroom in the 4,000-square-foot, two-story home on the property could be used only by the wedding party, and the kitchen could be used by caterers to store food and keep it warm, but not to prepare it, she added.
Other buildings on the property that contribute to its agricultural and rural character include a goat shed, corn bin, and smokehouse. There is also a private cemetery.
In a staff report, Northampton Planner Kelley Lewis Parks asserted the proposed use is consistent with the county comprehensive plan, which allows certain “non-agricultural low-impact uses” in agricultural-rural zones, like nature-based tourism.
Her biggest concern appeared to be noise that could disturb neighbors. “The location of the use is in close proximity to a residential area. Appropriate sound barriers should be installed or used temporarily for each event,” she wrote.
Tidewater Realty stated it would “require the tents to face the water, thus, using the back of the tent for a sound barrier.”
Another similarity to the Cleaveland case was the strong opposition of neighbors, who spoke out against the proposed event venue at a public hearing held by the Northampton County Planning Commission Jan. 7.
The neighbor nearest to Huntington Farm, Chris Buck, took issue with a conversation he had with one of the farm’s owners, Catherine Fulton, about six weeks ago. During the 30-minute conversation, she never mentioned an event venue, he said.
His wife, Jennifer Buck, said the farm is only 450 feet away from their home, “if you’re being generous.” Two other wedding venues in Northampton County, Elkington Events, in Eastville, and Mimosa Farm, near Cheriton, each are about a half-mile from the nearest neighbor, she said.
She is “adamantly opposed” to an event venue in the neighborhood, where 15 homes are occupied by five children and 25 adults, ages five to 99.
Chris Buck was concerned that noise from the venue would prevent his children from falling asleep after their 8 p.m. bedtime.
When drivers approach the farm at night and use the short driveway instead of the long driveway, their headlights shine directly into the couple’s bedroom window, he added.
Cherrystone Road is high, narrow, bumpy, and unsafe for use by multiple drivers unfamiliar with the area, Buck said.
Huntington and Mimosa farms are near one another and could cause “traffic confusion” if events are held at both venues simultaneously, he continued.
The road conditions are a “recipe for disaster. Add alcohol to the equation and I think that … speaks for itself,” Buck said.
The Bucks were not the only neighbors to speak out. Frank Lusk, Michael Wells, and Ray Wood were also concerned about noise and road safety issues.
“I just don’t think this is the right place for this venue,” Lusk said.
Kate Tayloe, of Robin Road, near Cheriton, called living near an event venue “horrible” and “ridiculous.”
Her family has been disturbed by noise from weddings at nearby Mimosa Farm and next door at Salt Grove, she said. The music was so loud the family could feel the vibrations of the noise, and the kids couldn’t sleep.
The Tayloes also have had unwanted interactions with wedding guests.
“My family was on the porch one day, and in broad daylight, we had one of the guests change her purple thong (undergarment) into something more comfortable.
“And this is the kind of behavior that just kind of rolls along with weddings,” Tayloe said.
It’s “not fun on Saturday nights.”
The events are happening more frequently – about every other weekend for six to eight months a year.
Kate Tayloe’s husband, Thornton Tayloe, said Mimosa Farm has “carte blanche” to host any number of events and guests, because it was permitted to host events as a conference and retreat center when Northampton’s zoning ordinances were less restrictive.
Northampton’s current noise ordinance is unenforceable by police, and the county’s administration office is closed on Saturdays, Kate Tayloe pointed out.
The Tayloes said they had received a letter from the county telling them to file a lawsuit against the event venue or stop complaining about the noise.
Commissioner Janet Sturgis said the planning commission is working on a new noise ordinance that will be enforceable by the sheriff’s office, and no one would be exempt.
Fulton seemed surprised by the opposition voiced during the public hearing and apologized to her neighbors.
She requested a delay in the planning commission’s decision to allow time to talk to her neighbors and work out their issues with the event venue.
The planning commission voted unanimously to table the matter until its next regular meeting Feb. 4.
Commissioner Sarah Morgan commended Fulton and her family for their willingness to find “common ground” with their neighbors. “It often doesn’t happen that way.”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen it,” Commissioner Andrew Follmer remarked.
Northampton supervisors may proceed with another public hearing on the event venue, scheduled for Jan. 14, but they will not vote on the matter before they receive the planning commission’s recommendation.