Cape Elizabeth eyes rules for wedding venues

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A special events ordinance is being created to regulate the rental of residential property for private events and parties.

The use of residential property as a business for fee-paying functions is currently not allowed.

The issue came to light after the town became aware the Sprague Corp. has been renting Wentworth Lodge on Winters Lane at Ram Island Farm for several weddings a year.

The ordinance is being drafted by the Planning Board to allow residents to hold for-profit functions, but with rules and restrictions.

“The building inspector could go shut down (weddings at Wentworth Lodge) right now,” Town Manager Mike McGovern said, “but that’s not the way we want to work with residents.”

The special events facility ordinance would allow citizens in the residential zoning districts RA, RB, and RC to have “small-scale, hospitality venues” on their property, if the property is a minimum of 15 acres. There also must be a noise buffer between abutting properties.

“When relatively isolated, these events are consistent with the town’s residential character,” a draft of the ordinance states.

Other requirements would include not exceeding 275 attendees; no more than 12 events could be held a year; amplified music could only be played between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., and no event could last more than eight hours.

If a person or business wants to host these events on their property, they have to apply for a zoning map amendment for their lot to be included in the special events facility overlay district. The Sprague Corp. applied for this at the end of May.

McGovern said currently no zone in town allows large special events, but he believes the Sprague Corp. started hosting them “very innocently.” 

At a May 26 Town Council workshop, John Greene, the property manager of Ram Island Farm, said Sprague Corp. has been on the property for 33 years.

He said it hosted “sporadic” weddings over the years, but lately there has been an “uptick;” six weddings are scheduled this year.

McGovern said Sprague started with a family wedding, but its violation of town code was noticed when it started advertising Wentworth Lodge as a wedding venue.

“This was being done for a fee and being done as a business on a residential property,” McGovern said.

McGovern said the town didn’t receive any complaints about what Sprague has been doing, but did receive “inquiries” that prompted the town to work on the new ordinance.

At the May 26 meeting, McGovern said the ordinance is needed before other property owners start hosting similar events.

“To have no rules, to have nothing, it opens the issue, why can’t anyone do this on their property?” he said.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing June 16 to discuss the ordinance before it is sent back to the Town Council for approval.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.