Cumberland planners to tackle farm weddings

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CUMBERLAND — A proposed ordinance change that would allow farms to host weddings as an additional revenue stream could go to an Oct. 10 Planning Board workshop.

The Town Council voted 4-3 Sept. 25 to send the issue to the board, which will ultimately send a recommendation back to the council. The council could vote Nov. 13.

Cumberland has 36 registered farms, and one farm owner asked in January about being able to host six to eight weddings a year, Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview Sept. 26.

“We don’t have that as an allowable use anywhere in our ordinance, so we originally said no,” he said.

The Comprehensive Plan, however, encourages registered farms to be used for activities other than farming, such as weddings and summer camps, in order to gain more revenue. That led the Ordinance Committee to spend several months developing proposed ordinance language to allow such uses.

The use would be restricted to farms of at least five acres in Rural Residential Districts 1 and 2.

A farm could hold no more than eight events a year after town approval, and events would be capped at eight hours, excluding equipment set-up and breakdown. Amplified music would be allowed only between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., no louder than 60 decibels at the property line, according to the proposed language.

If the council approves the change, the town would follow a site plan review process through the Planning Board for such uses, so neighbors would be notified of an applicant’s desire to hold an event. Approvals would expire at the end of the year.

“If the person is compliant and follows the rules, and we don’t have any black marks against them during that one year, then it’s an automatic renewal,” Shane said. “If they violate the conditions of the site plan approval, then they have to re-apply.”

“There’s a safety net for the neighbors, that if this goes south pretty quickly, the town can shut it down, because it’s out of compliance with the ordinance,” the manager added.

Councilor Shirley Storey-King, who served on the committee that updated the Comprehensive Plan in 2014, last week said “we were looking at ways to help keep the rural character of our community.”

“People all say we have to keep the rural character, but it costs somebody money” to do so, she added, referring to farm owners.

The Ordinance Committee, on which she sits, also wanted to ensure neighbors of the farms were protected, Storey-King added.

Councilor Bill Stiles, who voted with Ron Copp and Tom Gruber against sending the matter to the Planning Board, said “I think we’re hustling this stuff along too fast. You’re asking us to vote on something that most of us who aren’t on the Ordinance Committee have no idea what it’s all about.”

Stiles suggested the council hold a workshop to see if the if it could reach consensus itself on the proposed ordinance language. Gruber called for the panel to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Oct. 9, eight days before the Planning Board convenes.

“If you’re planning a wedding for next year, you’ve probably already done it, or you’re going to do it within the next month or so, and that is why we wanted to get it on the agenda tonight, to get it going,” Chairman Mike Edes explained.

Residents are allowed to hold weddings on their property, but the current restriction pertains to commercial businesses, Shane noted.

“There’s no harm, no foul, as long as it’s not an every weekend type of venue,” he added.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.