By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton planning commission recommended approval of a special-use permit (SUP) for a wedding and event venue near the small residential community of Cherrystone on Wednesday night, following two hours of discussion, including public comments that were largely in opposition to the proposal.
“Within the adjacent hamlet, it is 100% opposition,” said Chris Buck, whose family lives closest to Huntington Farm, the site of the proposed event venue.
He gave the planning commission a petition signed by 63 people who either live in Cherrystone or have a stake in the community and oppose the venue.
The zoning applicant is Tidewater Realty, of Norfolk, a small business owned by five sisters who inherited Huntington Farm from their parents.
One of the sisters, Catherine Fulton, spoke in defense of the application at the Jan. 7 planning commission meeting but later asked the commissioners to table the matter and allow time to meet with the neighbors and work out a compromise.
A Feb. 14 letter written by attorney Andre Wiggins, of Eastville, outlined conditions Tidewater Realty would follow to minimize the event venue’s impact on the neighborhood.
Those conditions included the use of sound barriers, each 4 feet wide and 6.5 feet high, made with a 3-inch-thick sheet of insulation sandwiched between layers of plywood and drywall.
The event tent and music amplifiers would face the waterfront; the sound barriers would be placed between the tent and the water.
DJs would be instructed not to play music louder than 85 decibels and noise levels would be monitored by a certified decibel reader.
Wiggins said a native species of holly would be planted along the property, across from the Buck home. The shrub acts as a natural sound barrier, and it can grow 3 feet high per year, up to 25 feet high and 15 feet wide.
None of the conditions were enough to change Buck’s mind, who said, “Northampton County’s not ready for this.”
Northampton’s noise ordinance, as written, cannot be enforced by police, county officials have admitted.
The planning commission is working on a new noise ordinance but it is not near completion.
However, neighbors can file noise complaints with the county magistrate, and noise ordinance violations can result in jail time, Wiggins pointed out.
Other citizens also maintained their opposition.
Kate Tayloe, who lives farther down Cherrystone Road near another wedding venue, Mimosa Farm, wanted to know how much Huntington Farm will charge to host an event.
“Wondering what the price tag is for ruining the peace and quiet?” she asked.
Tidewater Realty is asking permission to hold up to 40 events per year, from weddings to oyster roasts. They want to host up to 20 events per year with amplified music and 20 events with no amplified music.
Buck noted that one wedding can cause five days of heavy traffic and noise disturbance for setting up the tent, chairs, and other equipment, holding a rehearsal dinner, hosting the main event, taking down the tent, and cleaning up afterward.
He calculated that 40 events could cause 200 days of neighborhood disruption per year.
One citizen remarked that Huntington Farm would be granted a “constant use permit.”
Granville Hogg said Northampton County is “getting away from the intent of agritourism” by permitting event venues in agricultural-rural business zones, a business some consider to be more commercial than agricultural.
The planning commission recommended approval of the application, with 11 conditions related to noise, signage, the number of guests permitted per event, the number of events allowed per year, and other considerations.
It did not demand that an off-duty police officer be present before, during, and after events, which Wiggins asserted would be cost prohibitive.
Northampton supervisors will make the final decision to grant or deny the permit.