Rural event centers approved

An ordinance amending Island County’s zoning code to provide for the existence and use of “rural event centers” was approved by county commissioners Monday.

Commissioner Bill Thorn, however, found the resolution too strict in areas. He criticized a statute restricting the number of people allowed to attending a specific rural center event, saying that a limit of 200 heads is too few given the space provided by certain rural locations.

“It strikes me as being too few,” Thorn said regarding the 200-person cap. “A number of 500 would be a far more appropriate number.”

Coupeville resident Bob Whitlow appeared to agree with Thorn’s assessment, adding that he’s been involved with a number of big weddings in the county where overcrowding hasn’t been a problem.

“Two hundred people on two acres of land will rattle around,” Whitlow said. “That’s a lot of room.”

Whitlow asked that commissioners affix a new number to the amendment now rather than later “so we don’t need to come back for special permission.”

Rural event centers are defined in the county comprehensive plan as “permanently established (facilities) in a rural location and setting that operate on a continuous basis to accommodate the temporary assembly of people for special functions,” such as weddings or picnics. Sites would conform to local rural characteristics, providing commercial opportunities and promoting tourism in the county.

Public hearings regarding rural event center amendments to the county plan were held back in May, though no public comments were received by the June 4 deadline.

Attendance at rural events was not the only issue that arose at Monday’s public hearing, during which several comp plan amendments were discussed. Whitlow also objected to a statute requiring a minimum 50-foot buffer for off-street parking at rural events.

Why, Whitlow asked, was such a large buffer required when minimum parking buffers in residential zones are only 5 feet?

“I don’t understand what is being attempted here,” Whitlow said. “I think this is not realistic. I don’t understand what’s behind it.”

Thorn told Whitlow that the 50-foot buffer is intended to reduce the impact of rural events on surrounding properties. “A lot of cars coming and going is a lot of disruption to me,” Thorn said.

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