After five hours of public comment and debate, Nevada County’s revised outside events ordinance passed late Tuesday by a narrow 3 to 2 margin.
The controversial ordinance, which limits commercial outdoor weddings and other events in residential neighborhoods to four temporary permits a year, was approved on first reading by county supervisors Nate Beason, Hank Weston and Richard Anderson. Voting no were supervisors Terry Lamphier and Ed Scofield.
The proposal, which would go into effect Dec. 1, comes up for a second reading and final adoption in two weeks.
“The wedding industry will prosper,” said Beason, who disputed earlier reports of the potential devastating financial losses to the local weddings and events industry. “It just needs to be done right.”
Beason said he has had numerous complaints about disruptive outdoor events from Banner Mountain to Cement Hill. The measure, he said, would give Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal the teeth to take enforcement action against violators holding disruptive or unsafe events in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Anderson, who, with Weston, served on the subcommittee that rewrote the ordinance over the last two months, said he felt it “struck the right balance” between the rights of homeowners to have a certain peace and quiet in their neighborhoods and small business owners trying to earn a livelihood in the growing Nevada County weddings and tourism industry.
But Lamphier, who is running for Grass Valley City Council on Nov. 4, said he voted no because he said he “can’t support the erosion of private property rights.”
Scofield, a former CEO at Nevada County Fairgrounds, said he felt the ordinance, originally created in the 1980s to handle outdoor festivals, was too far-reaching and should just address large events and leave weddings alone.
Reaction to the vote was negative in the weddings and event industry circles, whose members have for months opposed the measure because of its feared financial impact on wedding venues and caterers, photographers, DJs, hotels, restaurants and other vendors.
“The county didn’t do its due diligence and prepare an economic impact report,” said Heather Featherston, a staff member at Foothills Events Center in Grass Valley and a member of the subcommittee that worked on the ordinance rewrite.
“I offered a lot of suggestions, but they were all shot down,” said Featherston. “It’s a little misleading to say that the subcommittee reached a common ground.”
She and others had requested the board table the ordinance until a better balance could be struck and confusion cleared up.
“They all should have voted no,” said Mike Snegg of Nevada City, one of dozens of residents who spoke during the public comment section. “I don’t believe they did enough research on it.”
Jan Roth, proprietor of the Roth Estate event venue in Nevada City, said she was “disappointed” and especially “sad” for the nonprofits she hosts at her estate for free, financed by commercial weddings. She said two of her commercial wedding customers have cancelled their contracts and relocated their events to Napa Valley and to Tahoe.
“I wanted the weddings to be a separate ordinance,” Roth said. “They say people can go to North Star (event venue) or Miners’ Foundry, but lots of people don’t want to go there — they want to be married in a garden.”
Douglas Coursey of Alta Sierra said the county board would have done better to just adopt a noise ordinance and enforce other issues — such as traffic and sanitation — using existing zoning codes.
“You could solve a lot of problems that way,” he said.
Similarly, Jim Hurley, representing the Federation of Neighborhood Associations in Nevada County, said the outside events situation was “a complex planning issue that would be better dealt with through the planning process” instead of the county’s administrative general code.
“Why didn’t you do this with the staff you have who are professionals in dealing with the planning process?” said Hurley, whose group represents 12 county neighborhood associations.
Numerous residents, on the other side, spoke in favor of the measure.
“My neighbor has space for more than 600 people and parking for 80 cars, with overflow parking at the (county’s) Rood Center,” said Randall Strossen of the Cement Hill Road neighborhood in Nevada City. “It’s like living next to a nightclub.
“They have 10 weddings a year, over 20 weeks, so that’s one wedding every other week,” he said, adding that the events have a negative effect on property values.
Andy Wilson, an attorney representing a property owner on American Ranch Court Road who is suing a neighbor over his commercial outside weddings business, said he was not even in favor of the four temporary permits being allowed per year.
“If you’re having a wedding at a location that’s not permitted you are breaking the law,” he said. “If you’re allowing four weddings, you’re giving them rights to do something that’s not permitted (in a residential neighborhood).”
The revised ordinance would require wedding or event planners to apply for the permits at least 60 days before the event, and to provide advance notice to neighbors within 500 feet of the property. The measure also encourages, but does not require, that the event-holders notify Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and local fire departments 15 days before the event so they may be on alert for potential public safety issues.
Only properties of 5 acres or more would be allowed to apply for the temporary permits.
“I’d like to know how anyone can survive on just four events a year,” said Bobby G. Wilkes of B & B Events DJs service. Wilkes said a San Diego-based bride had scheduled her Thanksgiving weekend wedding for 300 guests at a local venue, but cancelled after all the publicity about the ordinance, creating an expected $100,000 loss.
He said the bride was “too upset” and transferred her wedding to Napa Valley.
Katharine Doolittle, proprietor of the Emma Nevada House bed and breakfast inn in Nevada City, proposed an alternative “amnesty ordinance” that would create a “medium tier” of venues between the permitted sites like Empire Mine State Park or Miners Foundry and the “mom and pop” commercial backyard weddings in rural neighborhoods.
She said the special category would allow for up to 15 events annually — but only if the venues met certain requirements, such as having had no more than three or less noise complaints in the past year.
Less conciliatory was Paul Sieving, incoming president of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has taken out a series of ads in The Union opposing the measure and has presented the county with what it claimed were 5,000 signatures on a petition calling for the ordinance to be shelved.
“It is becoming quite apparent that the underlying goal of this process in general and this ordinance in particular is one of regulation and simple fee-seeking for a county administration that has completely lost touch with the voters and good governance principles,” Sieving said. “Perhaps the most damaging effect, after that to the economy, if this ordinance is passed, is the further erosion of the public trust in, and respect for, our elected officials and department heads.”
Numerous commenters also complained that the ordinance was confusing in some areas and incomplete in others.
Greg Whatley, owner of Mountain Event Productions DJs services, said he was not able to get a clear answer on decibel rates and sound abatement. He said his bookings for next year, meanwhile, were down to eight events, compared to the 20 he had booked at this time last year.
“We need some clarity,” he said. “We are trying to do our best, but this is affecting my livelihood, and they are giving no room for compromise.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
This article was updated on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, to clarify remarks that incorrectly referenced the Miners Foundry Cultural Center.