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County to consider ‘agricultural’ wedding venues on a case-by-case basis

St. Charles County officials have backed away from placing new stricter conditions on regulating weddings and wedding receptions, particularly near wineries.

The County Council voted 6-0 on Oct. 10 to approve a bill to remove weddings and wedding receptions as rural recreational activities in agricultural-zoned areas of the county. Councilmember John White [District 7] was absent.

The bill authorizes certain buildings and open spaces for weddings and wedding receptions as conditional uses in areas zoned for agriculture. What this means is that the county will continue to decide on whether locations can hold those functions on a case-by-case basis.

Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] introduced the bill on July 31 to regulate rural recreational activities and particularly protecting wineries in the southwest part of the county. Brazil said without some protections “commercial box wedding venues” would spring up around established wineries hurting their business.

The bill originally stated that weddings, wedding receptions and certain meeting facilities could be granted as conditional uses in agriculture zoned areas on sites that are more than 2,000 feet from a winery and not less than 20 acres.

The bill the council passed on Oct. 10 eliminates the distance and acreage requirements while removing weddings and wedding receptions from the definition of a rural recreational activity.

Brazil said he changed his mind on the acreage and distance restrictions in the original bill. “It really complicates things and there would be unintended consequences, all kinds of stuff,” Brazil said. “I guess what we’re going to have to do is deal with one individually with a CUP [conditional use permit] see how it goes.”

Brazil said, in particular, he didn’t want to complicate existing wineries ability to host weddings and wedding receptions.

Most of the counties wineries are in District 2. The vineyards and wineries along the south-facing bluffs of the Missouri River, near Augusta and along Hwy. 94 have become major tourist attractions. In 1980, the area was designated as the first American Viticultural Area by the federal government.

Earlier this year, the county began to see an upswing in outdoor wedding venues with the council approving two conditional use permit requests and rejecting another at its July 31 meeting. Residents and winery owners said they worried that crowded wedding venues posed traffic hazards on rural roads and affected the peace and quiet of the area.

Other councilmembers were sympathetic but not quick to jump on board with Brazil’s original bill. At the board’s Aug. 28 meeting, Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] said the question was whether to base the ordinance solely on District 2 or take into account the county’s six other council districts.  Cronin said the rises of small corn distilleries in his district in the northeast part of the county could be impacted by restrictions meant for the winery area.

An ordinance is countywide and CUPs should result in more localized restrictions, said Council Chair Mike Elam [District 3], who opposed the acreage requirement. Some winery owners were skeptical about CUPs.  Tony Kooyumjian, owner of Montelle Winery in Augusta, feared crowded wedding venues might change the rural character of the region, call CUPs “spot zoning.”

By the Oct. 10 meeting, councilmembers were more accepting of the bill, which had been tabled for several months to allow discussions between county staffers and council members.


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