by Kelly Pressley
(Bakersfield,ca (kern County))
Visitor Question: I live in a rural community where there is a house that has sold to an individual that intends to transform this home into a wedding venue/ event venue. Obviously, most neighbors are completely opposed to this.
He will have to obtain a conditional use permit as currently our properties are not zoned for this type of business.
Our roads are not maintained by the county (privately maintained by home owners). This will cause an increase to traffic in our community for these roads. Also, a lot of our neighbors walk, or ride horses, golf carts, and bikes on these roads; this will change our way of life and the only person(s) that are benefiting would be the ones involved with this place. I believe it to be unfair at a minimum that we should have to alter our quality of life.
We live at best 15 miles from a fire department or law enforcement availability, should these services be necessary. There is only one road into our community from town and it is winding; should there be any drinking (as there is at most events) not only does this create dangers for the involved parties' lives/property, but also it endangers all others in their path.
There are currently 40 acres adjacent to this property zoned as ag. If he were to get a conditional use permit, what is to stop the adjacent owner from getting a conditional use permit for other commercial business use? Wouldn't this make it easier??
Now we talk about the noise! The noise from these events would be a nuisance. In the evenings people ride their horses, sit by fire pits, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
This particular property is established along a river. The only water used on this property is from this local river that is already strained at times for available water. Obviously, a wedding or event space would be an increase in water usage, compared to typical household use.
We as residents feel this will devalue our community; it we no longer be a quiet enjoyable family atmosphere.
Thank you for any advice on how we can make our case stronger to fight this!
Editors Reply: This possible conditional use does seem highly inappropriate in the circumstances you describe.
You already have given the strongest arguments against this proposal. You didn't describe what public body or administrator makes the final decision on conditional use permits, but anyone looking out for the public interest should be very concerned about encouraging large gatherings where fire and police response times would necessarily be long.
Granted, we have heard of some successful event spaces in remote rural locations, but usually these are occurring where there is no zoning ordinance in effect and therefore no process by which the suitability of the land use is evaluated. You at least have a zoning ordinance to offer some protections and processes, so I can't imagine that a board or staff person would think this would be an appropriate land use in a remote location.
Equally important in the eyes of the likely decision makers should be the issue of the adequacy of the water supply. Not only is water needed for provision of drinking water and appropriate functioning of plumbing, but also for fire protection.
If there is any potential issue of improper treatment of sewage, whether because of lack of capacity of a public system or private septic system, that too should be mentioned prominently in your discussion.
You might think our choice of topics to focus on is a little odd. Most residents in a situation such as yours think the traffic and the noise are their strongest arguments. Indeed those are very important, but just be aware that every neighbor who comes in to complain about a possible rezoning nearby talks about the traffic and the noise. Some boards and councils become a little immune to this argument. We aren't saying you shouldn't make it--you definitely should! Just don't lead off with those two topics, and you will be more likely to capture the positive attention of whoever is listening to you.
Also regarding traffic, the sheer volume of traffic may not be as effective as talking about traffic safety. If the road is private and winding, it may not be a very safe road for city slickers and freeway drivers who aren't used to rural situations. Point out the winding nature and any spots that are potentially hazardous for a driver who has never been on your road.
If your road is private, presumably the new property owner will have to foot his share of the bill for maintenance. Do you have a formal agreement, or maybe some deed restrictions or covenants, that describe road maintenance responsibilities? If so, read the fine print of that; maybe there will be something there that would help you improve your argument.
By all means, when you have the opportunity to speak at a public hearing or meeting about this issue, be sure to have photos or video of people walking on your road, riding their golf carts, riding horses, and so forth. Also if you can show photos of the twists and turns of your road, that will be helpful. Sometimes board members have not visited the site in question, as they should have, or they may be fuzzy on the details.
As for noise, yes, that will be a potential nuisance for you folks. If there are any particular aspects of the contours of the land or water bodies that would make the sound carry more to adjoining properties, be sure to point that out.
A final piece of advice is to ask your local health department (usually separate from the department that handles zoning) if they have any questions or concerns about the proposed land use. We would hope your zoning staff would routinely ask public health folks for comment, but sometimes they don't.
Even though you are in a rural environment, be sure to read our article about opposing a rezoning thoroughly. Since you are fighting an action that is often similar to rezoning in its process and in its particulars, be sure to take in all of the help we offer there.
When you are able to make statements about this to your public body or public official, be sure to ask about the enforcement mechanism if a conditional use permit were to be granted. A conditional use permit means there are "conditions" placed on the operation, and it is common for developers or property owners to agree to many "conditions" because they think, correctly sometimes, that the county won't come out and check. We hope this conditional use permit fails, but if it is granted, be sure to understand how you can complain if there is a problem.
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