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Not a perfect marriage in Afton

Afton City Council isn’t quite ready to start allowing for commercial wedding venues within the city.

At least that was the attitude during its Aug. 20 meeting.

City Council opted not to approve an ordinance amendment, presented by Afton residents Tom and Clare Hoelderle, to allow for commercial wedding venues within the city’s rural residential district.

“I don’t feel that I’m ready to adopt an ordinance,” Mayor Pat Snyder said. “I’m not ready to go there yet.”

The motion to adopt the ordinance, made by Council Member Bill Palmquist, failed 1-4.

The Hoelderles presented the ordinance amendment after the couple approached the city about opening a commercial wedding venue, Avonlea Farm, on their Manning Avenue property.

Afton’s city code allows for residents to initiate ordinance changes.

“I understand that you want to hurry this along,” Snyder said. “But (the ordinance) sounds a little like spot zoning to me.”

City Council’s denial followed the recommendation of Afton Planning Commission, which had been discussing the ordinance for the past several months.

“In general, this type of use isn’t appropriate in the rural residential district,” said Commissioner Kris Kopitzke, who was present at last Tuesday’s meeting. “Plus, we don’t want to get in the habit of making ordinances for a single property.”

Planning Commission had also requested that City Council work with the Hoelderles to develop and alternative, such as rezoning.

Several council members said they would not be in favor of rezonig the Hoelderles’ property.

Regulating commercial wedding venues is just one component of an “agritourism” ordinance that Planning Commission is currently working on to allow semi-commercial uses within the city including wineries, apple orchards, polo fields, tree farms and other similar endeavors.

Two differing views

The Hoelderles’ proposal stated that commercial wedding venues would be allowed in the rural residential district on properties greater than 20 acres as long as they sit adjacent to the industrial district.

There are only a handful of properties that would meet the requirement, Palmquist said.

“I’m not that worried about the ordinance,” he said. “The way it’s written is very careful

“It dots the I’s and crosses the T’s.”

Whereas Palmquist supported the ordinance, Snyder, along with Council Members Peg Nolz and Joe Richter all appeared in agreement that they were not comfortable making an amendment to address the needs of one property.

“It doesn’t make sense to craft it such that it applies to only one property,” Nolz said. “It seems like bad policy to me.”

“My opposition to this ordinance is that it’s responsive,” Richter said.

Council Member Randy Nelson, however, appeared on the fence for much of the meeting.

“I would like to make it work for this because I think it makes sense,” he said.

However, Nelson ultimately voted against the ordinance because he said he wanted to work more on crafting the perfect ordinance.

“I would like to flesh through that a little bit more,” he said. “Let’s work hard and see what we can come up with. Whatever we come up with to allow this use I want to include this property.”

More work needed

Planning Commission will continue working on its agritourism ordinance next month.

Council members gave some direction to Kopitzke as to what types of things they would like to see from an ordinance.

One possibility presented would be to steer clear of limiting agritourism to a specific district, but rather create an overlay district.

Additionally, Nelson said he would like to look at limiting agritourism uses to major thoroughfares.

“I don’t want to have something big dropped in the middle of a quiet neighborhood,” he said.

Additionally, Nelson said he would like to look at including a requirement that a conservation easement must be added as part of an agritourism use.

“With an easement, that would give us a sense of permanence to this type of use,” he said.

Kopitzke raised the possibility of splitting off the wedding venue portion of the agritourism ordinance as a way to expedite the process.

The possibility of a joint work session between City Council and Planning Commission was raised as a possibility.

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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