Weddings at Jim and Jodi Lopez’s Lavender Pond event site east of Bend are joyful occasions for the brides and grooms who tie the knot on the carefully landscaped property.
But some neighbors of the Lopezes say the dust, traffic and noise created by wedding guests threaten their quiet, rural way of life.
Deschutes County code currently does not allow events such as weddings in agriculture or farm zones, and the county began a code enforcement case against the Lopezes in February 2007.
Now, the dispute has swept up other businesses throughout the county that host weddings and other events, after a letter sent to the county listed approximately 10 such sites, said Tom Anderson, director of the county’s Community Development Department.
“A lot of venues are doing these weddings, have been doing these weddings, and now all of the sudden they’re on the county’s radar,” said Paul Heatherman, an attorney who represents the Lopezes.
The county is considering an ordinance to permit such events with restrictions, but that too is drawing fire from some residents.
Two hobby farmers who live next to the Lopezes said the proliferation of event venues undermines their lifestyle.
“We raise show rabbits, and they are sensitive to noise,” said Leslie Ketrenos, who lives with her husband, Harry, next to the Lopezes on the Powell Butte Highway.
But for some of the property owners who host the events, the business makes it possible for them to keep small farms going, they said.
“I finally found a way to make a living on this property, and one that is beautifying the neighborhood,” said Kelly Brown, who owns and operates The Gardens at Flying Diamond Ranch near Redmond with her husband. “We’re running a business that my particular neighborhood is supportive of, so it’s a little bit frustrating because we can’t see the harm being done, or understand.”
Brown said she discussed her plans for the weddings with all her immediate neighbors, so she was upset when she heard from the county that someone had complained about it.
“I personally went to so much effort to be accommodating to someone I could be bothering in my neighborhood,” Brown said.
Seeking code change
The Lopezes have applied to amend Deschutes County’s code so landowners in a certain agricultural zone can obtain permits to operate venues for events such as weddings, family reunions, class reunions and company picnics, according to county documents. The proposed code would limit the venues to two events per day and a total of three per week, with up to 300 people at each event. The Lopezes’ attorney has since written to the county proposing to reduce the number of guests and events per week, and limit events to 75 vehicles on smaller parcels.
Hood River and Clackamas counties already allow events at such venues with up to 300 guests per event and up to seven events per week, according to a Deschutes County staff report.
The prospect of code enforcement fines has not stopped the Lopezes from hosting more weddings this summer, and Anderson said the county has not imposed any fines so far.
The county will allow other venues to continue with scheduled events since they were only informed recently that they were operating illegally, Anderson said, but the Lopezes have known about the issue since February 2007, so the county could impose fines.
Noise, traffic worries
Traffic is a major issue cited by the event venue opponents, and according to a county staff report, a single venue could add up to 480 vehicle trips onto county arterial roads in a single day.
Drivers pass by at high speeds on Powell Butte Highway, Harry Ketrenos said, and could crash into slower vehicles looking for the wedding address. Noise is also a problem: During one of the weddings at Lavender Pond, “the windows in our house and the neighbor’s house were actually vibrating,” Ketrenos said.
“There’s music, there’s drinking,” said Wes Murphy, another neighbor. “I’m not technically opposed to that, but people start drinking, and it gets loud.” Vehicles park on the Lopezes’ lawn, he added, which creates dust.
Lisa McDonald, who operates her Silver Moon venue on 20 acres on Neff Road, near the Lopez property, said she believes people who oppose the event venues feel frustrated at other area growth, such as the Bend airport and destination resorts, that have increased traffic.
Owners of the manicured properties say they beautify the land and keep it as open space. Two owners also keep farm animals and said money from weddings makes it possible for them to sustain some level of agriculture.
Brown, whose 40-acre property has been in the family for four generations, said she has a pond, a stream, flowers and trees to make the land attractive to wedding parties.
“People come back here and they say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’ve created this in Central Oregon,’” Brown said.
The Brown family has five horses, a couple of goats, chickens and steers at their ranch, Brown said.
“In order to make family farms work, we’re having to be a little creative,” said McDonald. She still grows hay on about half the property and has kept juniper trees in place for a natural look, she said. She also raises cattle and chickens and has a large vegetable garden.
McDonald said she started hosting weddings about a year ago after she was approached by a bride interested in her property.
“Twenty-acre farms are no longer able to support the people who live on them,” McDonald said. “The only thing you can do here now is hay, and that’s just enough to break even.”
A Planning Commission meeting on the Lopezes’ proposed text amendment is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 10, when the commission could decide whether to recommend approval of the code amendment to the County Commission.
Emotions ran high at a packed Deschutes Planning Commission hearing in May, said Heatherman, the Lopezes’ attorney. He added that Planning Commissioner Keith Cyrus, one of the owners of the Aspen Lakes Golf Course east of Sisters, recused himself from the deliberations and vote because he holds weddings and is affected by the debate.
“I firmly believe that the two sides are not that far apart,” McDonald said, “if we can come to the table with ideas.”