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County Council addresses permits for outdoor wedding venues

A major attraction of rural St. Charles County – its undeveloped open space – is becoming a draw for activities such as more outdoor weddings and receptions, which has some nearby residents uneasy.

They’re uneasy about a loss of peace and quiet, and the county is considering regulating these activities more closely in areas zoned agricultural.

At their July 31 meeting, the St. Charles County Council approved two requests for conditional use permits and rejected another that would allow new wedding and reception venues. Two of the requests drew opposition from nearby residents then and at a July 10 council meeting, when bills for the requests were given a first reading.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of a conditional use permit sought by Edward and Tami Barrieau, the owners of Valley Farms, on more than 20 acres in the 1000 block of Dietrich Road, west of Wentzville. A special use permit would allow weddings, receptions and assemblies to be held on their property from April through June and September through November.

The council also voted 7-0 to approve a conditional use permit to allow wedding receptions and other public assemblies, sought by Michael and Karen Koehneman, for a 16.89-acre tract on the southwest corner of the intersection of Terry Court and Terry Road.

The Barrieaus’ permit request drew the strongest opposition – and support. The weddings, receptions and other events would supplement their existing farm businesses on the property, including a pumpkin patch, petting zoo and hayrides.

Dan Pressman and his wife, Kathy Walsh, who said they live 1,900 feet from the Barrieaus’ property, told council members and county officials they are worried about the noise from receptions and the impact on their property values.

Their attorney, Daniel Goldberg, told council members on July 31 that there were four other, similar venues nearby. He also questioned the Barrieaus’ business practices and permits given to them in the past, and suggested other restrictions were needed.

Ed Barrieau told the council that he and his wife have been more than willing to work with neighbors about their concerns, including limiting crowds and alcohol consumption, and cutting off music at 10 p.m. He said more than 20 neighbors turned out to support them at the meeting.

He said he had wanted to meet with Pressman and Walsh to try to work out their differences, until they sent out a “massive mailing” urging opposition to the conditional use permit.

Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1], whose district includes the Barrieaus’ property, said he and the Barrieaus have tried to work with neighbors. “This gentleman has really tried to make as many people as he can happy in this area,” Cronin said.

Both the Barrieau and Koehneman requests had been recommended for approval on June 21 by the county’s planning and zoning commission.

The council also agreed with the commission’s June recommendation on another conditional permit request to allow weddings, receptions and other public assemblies – but this time for denial.

The council voted 7-0 to deny a request from Fall Creek Weddings, LLC, for a special use permit for weddings, wedding receptions and other public assemblies on 13.7 acres on the northwestern corner of Hwy. 94 and Hemsath Road.

The permit would clear the way for a wedding chapel and “event barn,” or reception area, for up to 280 guests. The company, which is based in Houston, operates wedding facilities in Texas and Georgia.

Brad Schreiber, president of Fall Creek Weddings, told the council on July 10 that the facility could generate $2.5 million to more than $3 million annually in taxable income, along with jobs. The facility could draw an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 guests annually for as many as 150 events.

Schreiber said the site was a “perfect location,” as outdoor weddings are a “hot concept.” The application noted that it “might be complimentary” to the Noboleis Vineyards, across Hemsath Road.

Robert Nolan, the winery’s owner, opposed the permit, saying it made little sense for the county to approve a permit for an out-of-town operator to open a similar operation so close to an existing local business. The winery and reception venue may generate a lot of traffic on rural roads.

His winery also is in one of the most rural parts of St. Charles County. “I think it’s damaging to the environment of the area,” Nolan told the council.

The permits suggest some of the evolving issues in rural areas, including people moving to new country homes, businesses seeking new opportunities in rural areas, increasing tourism and development pressures.

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