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The wedding's off in Afton's rural residential district

Even though allowing commercial wedding venues, wineries and other "agritourism" businesses is something Afton is looking to allow, the city's Planning Commission decided earlier this month that the rural residential district is not the best place for it.

During its Aug. 5 meeting, Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of an ordinance amendment, presented by Afton residents Clare and Tom Hoelderle, allowing commercial wedding venues in the rural residential district.

The Hoelderles requested the amendment since the couple is hoping to open a commercial wedding venue, Avonlea Farm, at their home off of Manning Avenue.

"I find this very difficult," Commissioner Dick Bend said. "We have property owners in Afton who have a dream to do this and it's very hard to back away from the individual circumstances, but I have to ask whether or not this is appropriate in a residential neighborhood and the response I tend to have is 'no.'

"I want these people to have their wedding business in an appropriate place in Afton, but I don't think it fits in rural residential."

Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen said she felt approving the Hoelderles' ordinance amendment would not be in the best interest of all residents.

"An ordinance amendment doesn't apply only to a single applicant. It affects every household in the district," she said."We cannot amend an ordinance for one property — that's a bad way to go about business."

However, an alternative option was presented during the Aug. 5 meeting so the Hoelderles could still have their wedding venue.

The Hoeldereles' property sits adjacent to properties that are zoned agriculture, marine services and industrial.

Given that the property borders other zoning districts, the property can be rezoned to one of the other zones.

Since Planning Commission is currently working on the agritourism ordinance applying to properties in the agriculture district, this would be the next best option, Bend said.

"If there was ever any evidence of a case tugging at the heart strings, this is it," he said. "What tugs at the heart string in this situation is that we have people that we would like to accommodate, but in doing so we would violate some of the core principals that drives the Planning Commission."

The panel directed staff to work with the Hoelderles, and advised City Council to figure out an alternative allowing the Hoelderles to open their wedding venue.

"I would like to see a way that we can allow them to have their wedding venue in this particular location," Commissioner Mark Nelson said.

City Council will discuss the Hoelderles' ordinance amendment during its Aug. 20 meeting.

An agritourism buffer?

Planning Commission has been working on drafting an agritourism ordinance since March after the Hoelderles first presented their application for their wedding venue in February.

At the same time as the Hoeldereles' request, Afton had also been receiving inquiries relating to opening wineries within the city.

"Agritourism," as the city refers to it, would involve commercial businesses with some sort of agriculture component other than farming.

Those could include wedding venues, wineries, apple orchards, "dinner on the farm" businesses, small produce markets, tree farms and other related businesses.

Planning Commission continued its discussion of its draft ordinance on Aug. 5.

Much of the discussion revolved around hours of operations, capacities and noise regulations.

"I didn't find enough noise-specific content," Nelson said.

However, Bend raised the possibility of creating an agritourism overlay district, rather than simply allowing agritourism throughout the entire agriculture district.

Specifically, Bend said he would be interested in locating the overlay district along Manning Avenue.

"For a long time we've talked about creating a buffer zone in the area adjacent to Woodbury," he said. "We ought to think of this in the long range development of Afton."

Planning Commission will continue its discussion of its agritourism ordinance next month.

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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