Thursday, November 30, 2023

Weddings, farmers markets and festivals: Change in county law permits 300-person events

Vintager Inn, a wedding venue with a barn in New Kent, was the location of Morgan and James Willsey wedding ceremony in 2014. Jessica Aiken coordinated the wedding. (E. Leise Photography)

If you were hoping to host a private party, charity event, farmers market or wedding in rural James City County, it’s time to start planning.

The James City County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday night to pass ordinance revisions that allow commercial event venues to operate on rural lands within the county. 

Supervisor John McGlennon was the only supervisor to vote against the ordinance.

The vote means lands zoned A1-general agricultural and R8-rural residential may now host rural weddings and many other types of events.

While the ordinance amendment would allow for commercial events, there are some stipulations. Events will be limited to 300 people – including staff, caterers, photographers and vendors – and must be on 10 or more acres, documents show.

Wedding Co. of Williamsburg, LLC owner Jessica Aiken has worked for two years with county planning staff and the Planning Commission’s policy committee to make wedding venues possible in the county.

“I am thrilled to have the support of the Board of Supervisors as I move forward into this next phase of fulfilling my dream of building a venue in James City County,” Aiken said.

Jessica Aiken (Courtesy Jessica Aiken)

At Tuesday’s meeting, Aiken said her dream to operate a wedding venue in James City County would not only benefit her, but would fit the county’s plans for future development.

“Goal number four of the county’s 2035 Strategic Plan includes protecting our community’s character, with particular emphasis placed on rural lands,” Aiken said. “Activities such as agritourism and rural rustic wedding venues fit this bill.”

With the ordinance revision, all venues located on arterial roads, like Route 60, would be designated Permitted Use under the proposed ordinance. Meaning they would not require special permission to host an event. 

Venues located on collector roads, like Forge Road, would need a Special Use Permit (SUP), which would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors on a case-by-case basis.

According to Commissioner Heath Richardson (Stonehouse), once a Special Use Permit is granted, the permit remains with the property in perpetuity, even after a change of ownership.

Although the county’s rural lands are well-suited for weddings, the approval also allows for concerts, festivals, meetings, banquets and farmers markets.

Some citizens, however, still had concerns about the impact commercial events could have on their properties.

James Satterwhite, a resident of Riverview Road, said events like bike races, motocross races, drone clubs and concerts could spook his horses.

“Sound and light travel a lot further in these little neighborhoods,” he said, adding that activities on adjacent properties can create significant concerns for horse owners in the county.

Aiken said she plans for her events to “fit the bill” for what the new ordinance allows, meaning adhering to noise and guest limits.

“I am not interested in running a motocross racing track or hosting a heavy metal rock concert, or otherwise becoming an eyesore and a nuisance to the community,” Aiken said. “I am simply looking to expand my business in an industry and an area that I love, and also bring a much-needed service to the county.”

All activities will need to comply with county and state environmental restrictions, any food service or catering will be approved by the Virginia Department of Health, and restrooms will be within building code requirements, according to board documents.

Noise from events will also be limited. Any noise that can be heard beyond the property lines will not be permitted between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“Now that the ordinance has passed, I plan to locate a property that fits the byright policies that are outlined in the ordinance, update my business plan to reflect the new ordinance and begin conversations with potential investors who are interested in partnering with me,” Aiken said. “I’m so looking forward to bringing this venue to our county.”

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Fearing may be reached at 207-975-5459.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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