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Wineries, wedding receptions considered by Afton Planning Commission.

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New types of businesses might be coming to Afton.

Afton Planning Commission discussed the possibility of allowing for commercial event venues and wineries during its March 4 meeting.

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The discussion stemmed from the city being approached by residents looking for information regarding permitting and allowance for what City Administrator Ron Moorse referred to as "semi-commercial" - commercial event venues for weddings, graduations and other events and tasting rooms at vineyards.

One specific inquiry came from Plymouth resident Clare Holderle, who recently bought a home on Manning Avenue and intends to run a wedding facility out of it.

Holderle has submitted a conditional-use permit request to the city.

"This type of business would not be permitted as the ordinance is written now," Planning Commission chairwoman Barb Ronningen said.

Afton currently allows for residents to host family events on their properties, but the city's ordinances don't say anything about commercial venues.

"One is a private party - an event for family, relatives or close acquaintances," Commissioner Dick Bend said. "Another is a commercial hospitality business being run regularly."

During last week's meeting, Moorse presented a sample ordinance from Stillwater Township that deals with commercial event venues within the city.

However, Stillwater Township only permits wedding ceremonies for the most part and does not deal with the reception side of things in too much detail since it does not address food or alcohol and states that events must be completed by "sundown."

"I'm not in favor of receptions that don't have food or alcohol," Commissioner Kris Koptizke said.

"I can't imagine how many people are just having the ceremony and zooming off to someplace else," Ronningen said.

One of the things discussed by Planning Commission was whether or not to allow for the event venues and wineries in both the agricultural and rural-residential districts, or only in the agricultural district.

"I hate the idea of this being a nuisance to neighbors," Commissioner Kitty Kilmer said in regards to the rural-residential district, where properties are much closer together. "One of my biggest concerns is light pollution at night."

Though Planning Commission could set an acreage maximum, the rural-residential district poses additional challenges, Ronningen said.

"I think agri-tourism would already be OK in the (agricultural) district," she said. "But, I'm not real keen on this in (rural-residential district)."

Another item that was raised during the discussion related to what renovations an old barn would have to undergo in order to meet code if it should be used for an event venue or tasting room.

The city's building inspector Duane Stensland said lighting would have to be added. Also, ingress and egress requirements must be structurally sound, have bathrooms and be handicap accessible among other requirements.

It appeared planning commissioners had more questions about the event venue concept than the wineries.

"I'm much more positively inclined to the vineyard, farm-like environment," Bend said. "I think it could enhance the rural atmosphere of Afton."

However, Commissioner Judy Seeberger said she would like to look at what options there are to allow for event venues since it would bring more people to Afton and it does happen elsewhere; even in nearby Denmark Township at Afton Apple Orchard.

Moorse said he will talk to Afton Apple Orchard and other venues to see how the permitting works and also look at other cities' ordinances and report back next month.

"What I'm hearing is that the big question is, 'What is the impact of the party part of this thing,'" he said. "The ceremony part is easy, the dinner part is easy - the question is the party."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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