Is the wedding back on in Afton?
Afton City Council made a significant step forward Nov. 19 in its discussion of agri-tourism and commercial wedding venues.
City Council agreed to look at the possibility of providing an “interim use” to allow for the operation of commercial wedding venues on a trial basis.
“We can do this if we wanted to use this as an experiment to see how this would work,” Council Member Joe Richter said. “We could let it operate for a year and then decide at the end of the year if it functions well.”
Since last February, Afton has been discussing the possibility of allowing for agri-tourism uses – wineries, orchards, pumpkin patches, farm markets and other related uses – as well as commercial wedding venues.
However, the discussion took a turn a couple months ago when City Council decided to move forward with development of an agri-tourism overlay district to act as a buffer zone between Woodbury and Afton.
Afton Planning Commission began work on the overlay district, but earlier this month several commissioners felt the process was moving too quickly.
The primary sense of urgency stemmed from Tom and Clare Hoelderle, who initially sparked the commercial wedding venue discussion when they approached the city about applying for a permit.
“The time pressure was brought to us,” Richter said. “It wasn’t something that we said, until it came to light, that something needed to be done on wedding venues.”
Given that Planning Commission and City Council felt the overlay district discussion was moving too quickly, City Administrator Ron Moorse suggested to slow the process down, which is where the interim-use concept came into play.
“There’s not really anything urgent, the only thing that is urgent is the wedding venue,” Moorse said. “Other than the wedding venue, the other things we don’t have to be in a big hurry about.”
It was Richter who posed the question about whether or not a commercial wedding venue could be run on a trial basis as a way to appease the applicants while gathering more information before the city were to move forward with its overlay district or any other agri-tourism ordinances.
“That would allow us to hold another meeting or at least calculate any complaints and analyze how that period worked,” he said. “If we felt at that time that it was viable, we would go ahead and make it a conditional use.”
City Attorney Fritz Knaak offered up the possibility of granting an interim use, which would allow for specific uses for a set period of time.
“I think this was crafted for this exact scenario where somebody wants to try something out and the city wants to evaluate it,” he said.
As part of the interim use, City Council could set conditions.
In order to allow for an interim use, the city would need to craft an ordinance amendment as well as hold a public hearing.
City Council agreed that an interim use would allow the Hoelderles to move forward with their business, while the city continues to work on the agri-tourism overlay district in addition to evaluating how a commercial wedding venue can work.
Initially City Council discussed allowing the interim use for a period of one year, but Tom Hoelderle, who was at the meeting, recommended looking at the timeline in terms of two business seasons since the commercial wedding venue would be a seasonal business.
“We do want to make sure that we get a fair sampling,” Council Member Bill Palmquist said.
Following the meeting, Tom Hoelderle told the Bulletin he supports the concept of the interim use.
“On the one hand it’s a very positive step because it would give us the opportunity to demonstrate that we can run a successful seasonal business with minimal impact – I think people will understand that it’s not a huge imposition,” he said. “But, on the other hand it’s not a permanent solution.”
Hoelderle said he would be in support of the two season timeline since that would allow the business to hopefully recoup any money that was put into it whether or not the city decides to continue with the use.
City Council ultimately decided to direct the interim-use discussion to Planning Commission, which in turn would delay the planned informational meeting on the overlay district.
“We’re certainly looking forward to seeing where it goes,” Hoelderle said.