Supervisors Deny Wedding Venue

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By Stefanie Jackson – A Northampton community prevailed Tuesday night when county supervisors heard their plea and unanimously voted to deny a major special-use permit for an event venue at Huntington Farm, in Cherrystone, a small neighborhood near Cheriton.

Eastville attorney Andre Wiggins had asserted the event venue would promote economic development in Northampton County, but Supervisor John Coker had other thoughts.

“This is not economic development … this is neighborhood destruction,” Coker said.

Huntington Farm, owned by five sisters in Norfolk, Va., belongs to an agricultural-rural business district, where commercial development is discouraged, according to Northampton’s comprehensive plan.

The county zoning ordinance defines an event venue as a “commercial use” of the land, Coker pointed out.

Supervisors appeared to agree that a commercial business would disrupt the “peace and tranquility” of the small, quiet neighborhood, and it would threaten the safety and well-being of its residents. The board rejected the county planning commission’s recommendation to approve the special-use permit (SUP) with 11 conditions.

Twice in a row, supervisors have done the opposite of what the planning commission recommended regarding a proposed event venue.

In July 2019, supervisors approved an event venue permit for John and Linda Cleaveland, of the Franktown area, after the planning commission recommended denial of the SUP.

In both of the recent cases, an event venue was proposed in a quiet, rural neighborhood in an agricultural-rural business district, and residents were concerned about impending noise and traffic.

In both cases, neighbors objected specifically to loud music and rude behavior by guests.

They also feared for the safety of the residents who may be walking or biking along the narrow and winding rural roads, and the visitors who may be driving on those roads while they’re inattentive or impaired from drinking alcohol.

But there were key differences that set apart the two applications.

Linda Cleaveland wanted to host about 20 weddings or other events per year. That request was granted on the condition that events will be held only between May and October.

The owners of Huntington Farm wanted to host up to 40 events per year and operate the event venue year-round. That could have resulted in neighborhood disruption on more than 75% of weekends every year.

Neighbors who opposed the Cleaveland event venue far outnumbered its supporters, but opposition was not total. About 50 people signed a petition against the event venue, but a few spoke in favor of it.

There was total opposition to the event venue proposed at Huntington Farm. More than 60 people signed a petition against the event venue, including the families living in the 16 homes within a half-mile of the farm.

Homes in the Cleavelands’ neighborhood, Wellington Neck, are spaced farther apart than the homes in Cherrystone.

Chris and Jennifer Buck’s property on Cherrystone Road is about 450 feet from Huntington Farm, and when a driver uses the farm’s short driveway to exit the property at night, the vehicle’s headlights shine directly into the Bucks’ bedroom window.

The closeness of homes in Cherrystone appeared to be a deciding factor in the Huntington Farm case.

Northampton supervisors have approved several event venues in recent years, including the Elkington wedding venue in Eastville, permitted in 2016, and Chelsea Hall in Machipongo, permitted in 2017.

Weddings and other events are also hosted at Mimosa Farm, about a mile from Cherrystone Road.

But Supervisor David Fauber reminded his peers that back in 2015, the board rejected a zoning application submitted by Bill Parr, of Seaview, because of the proposed event venue’s proximity to neighboring homes.

“It’s just too close,” Fauber said.

Coker made the motion to deny the permit for an event venue at Huntington Farm. Supervisor Betsy Mapp seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.