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May 15, 2014
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Nevada County tourism at risk from ordinance, innkeepers say

Nevada County innkeepers and other members of the hospitality community say they are upset about the potentially devastating economic impact of a proposed new county ordinance regulating commercial outdoor events at private properties.

The ordinance, approved 5-0 at first reading on Tuesday by Nevada County Board of Supervisors, would require private property owners who rent out their land for wedding venues and other profit-making gatherings to get a temporary permit.

Designed to crack down on loud music, unruly guests, excess traffic and other complaints from neighbors in some residential areas, the ordinance would limit each venue to a maximum of four, two-day permits per year.

A second reading and vote on adoption is set for May 27.

“Destination weddings are in vogue,” Jan Roth, proprietor of The Roth Estate in Nevada City, said. “If these travelers do not come here, they will most certainly leave their money in Napa Valley or Tahoe.”

Roth, who also hosts myriad Nevada County nonprofits gatherings at no cost, said without charging for weddings, she would not be able to maintain her operation. She said she has had no complaints from neighbors and that she shuts down her music at events at 9:30 p.m.

Katherine and Jim Doolittle, co-proprietors of Emma Nevada House bed and breakfast in Nevada City, said they had “deep sympathy” for neighbors elsewhere in the county who have to live with constant noise and other disruptions from commercial outdoor events at private properties.

“We are not talking about the locations that have complaints,” Katherine Doolittle said. “We are talking about locations where the people are good neighbors, good community members – the economic impact will be severe.”

She said her bed and breakfast typically hosts wedding guests from a nearby private venue, and then refers the guests to all the city’s restaurants, entertainment and shopping spots.

“One wedding can sell out this entire town,” she said.

As such, the entire city and region’s economy would suffer greatly if the frequency of such events were drastically reduced, she said.

Doolittle said she and others hope the county will be able to work in some flexibility in the ordinance.

“We’re not wanting this to be adversarial,” she said. “We hope business and city leaders will work with the county on this permit process.”

Board Chairman Nate Beason noted that the ordinance would be complaint-driven.

“If I’m having dinner at a winery, and nobody’s complaining, nothing’s going to happen,” he said.

His comment was part of a discussion over whether or not wineries would be exempted from the ordinance permit requirements. As now written, the ordinance exempts profit-making events conducted by registered 501c3 and 501c4 nonprofits, such as fundraisers. Also exempted are venues that are built and permitted to hold events, such as Nevada County Fairgrounds.

According to Steve DeCamp, Nevada County Community Development Director, wine-tastings, winemakers’ dinners and similar wine-related events at wineries would be exempt. However, separate private commercial bookings – such as weddings – that are held at wineries would be subject to the ordinance.

Supervisor Terry Lamphier said he has fielded numerous complaints from neighbors of a winery in his district.

“I’m concerned there may be a loophole,” he said. “I want to close any loophole — as long as we have a mechanism for this, that’s good.”

Some residents who spoke Tuesday said they supported the ordinance because they had no other way to deal with offensive conduct by party-goers at the commercial outdoor events in their neighborhoods.

Andy Wilson, attorney for neighbors on American Ranch Court Road, said he was concerned that permits would be issued at all, since commercial outdoor events are not allowed under the bylaws of the subdivision.

He said a “rogue neighbor” had violated the bylaws by hosting up to 11 weddings in recent months and “my first concern is whether this opens the door for weddings that are not allowed if you don’t have the proper zoning.”

Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green said the county was unable legally to enforce bylaws – also called CC&Rs – at private subdivisions, and so the “rogue neighbor” would be subject to the same permit review as any other applicant. Wilson acknowledged that the affected neighbors, who were present on Tuesday, are suing the alleged “rogue neighbor” in civil court. According to court records, the neighbor is counter-suing the residents for other alleged bylaws violations.

“We are basically held hostage in our own homes,” said Janine Blote, one of the American Ranch Court neighbors.

“We came here to Nevada County to own a piece of paradise and did that, with a private road and a cul de sac,” she said. “But now it’s like we’re being invaded, we have to shut all the windows every weekend, and I work 40 hours a week and on the weekends I have to come home to that.”

Mike Pringle and Nancy Cunningham, residents on Squirrel Creek Ranch Road, said a party venue at the end of their road has scheduled 30 events so far this year, every weekend.

“We have 250 people coming in from 3 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday,” Pringle said. He said protest statements against the neighbor holding the events were signed by 31 residents and forwarded to Lamphier and Supervisor Hank Weston.

“Before the board passes this, I want to make sure they don’t have an exemption,” Pringle said.

“I’m a half-mile away, and I can hear voices in my yard, as if they were right there,” Cunningham said.

Guy Selleck of Dog Bar Road said he was opposed to any permits being offered because he feared that a neighbor who was shut down after 21 years of offering commercial outdoor events might resurface.

“You have no idea how these weddings and other events can affect property values,” said Selleck, who said he had to make “hundreds” of calls to the sheriff’s office before the neighbor went out of business.

“If you live where someone is able to get four permits a year, and you’re going to sell your property, you have to disclose it,” he said. “We had people changing clothes, fights – and in the last one, the bride had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.”

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email kbrenner@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Jun 20, 2014 02:37PM Published May 16, 2014 10:44PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.