TOWN OF FLORIDA — Plans to turn a McDougall Road barn into a wedding venue have neighbors concerned events will disturb the rural area’s quiet atmosphere in the town of Florida.
Residents began registering criticisms of the proposal to the during the public comment portion of last week’s Planning Board meeting ahead of a public hearing scheduled during the next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on March 6.
“There are neighbors all around it. A lot of them aren’t happy,” Tom Nelson said.
John and Grace Kimber are seeking a special permit to establish a wedding and event venue in an existing 2,200 square-foot barn on their active 35 acre farm at 526 McDougall Road.
The space would be rented exclusively to Joe Goode, owner of Complete Weddings and Events Albany, to host special occasions when booked. The applicants estimate around four events would be held monthly from May through October.
“There is nothing being changed as far as the appearance of the place is concerned,” John Kimber said. “I’ve spoken to all of my neighbors, they’re all aware of the project. There is no objection from any of my neighbors.”
Residents disputed the property owner’s account, claiming they learned of the project through Christmas cards left in their mailboxes.
Furthermore, Walter Castiglia said nearby homeowners living just beyond the Montgomery County line did not receive the communication.
The potential clamor from weddings is a serious concern for Castiglia who lives within roughly 450-feet of the barn and can easily hear the so far innocuous sound of the Kimber family when they spend time outdoors.
“It’s going to be totally disruptive to all the neighbors in that area,” Castiglia said. “It would be terrible, nobody would be getting any sleep up there at night if there was a wedding going on in that barn. It’s basically a giant amplifier.”
Echoing the concerns, Joe Wells pointed out potential noise, light and traffic from the event venue are in sharp contrast to the peace and quiet of the countryside that motivated most residents to settle in the town.
Beyond the concerns of residents, Nelson questioned the enjoyment of wedding parties holding occasions at the property surrounded by the often aromatic operations of active farms with livestock or that use fertilizer.
Nelson went on to challenge the permissibility of a “commercial operation” wedding venue within the town’s agricultural zoning district.
The Planning Board last May drew similar conclusions about the application and referred it to the Zoning Board of Appeals to seek a variance, which was denied the same month. The Kimbers’ attorney subsequently filed an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court appealing the referral to the ZBA, because the Planning Board does not have that authority.
A zoning interpretation from the town’s zoning enforcer, Gerald Podolec, should have been sought to determine whether the use is allowed or if a variance was required. Attorneys for the town and Kimbers agreed to stay the pending appeal and follow the proper procedure.
Podolec late last year found the proposed wedding venue is “consistent” with other uses that are allowed in the agricultural district with a special use permit, comparing the activities to those held at churches or country clubs. That determination led the application back to the Planning Board for the ongoing review.
Resident Ken Moritz alleged the reversal is causing the Planning Board to take a “vindictive” approach to reviewing the application. He was the only local to speak in support of the project.
“They are doing exactly what many of the citizens of this township are looking for, keep the farm a farm,” Moritz said.
The Planning Board took up many of the issues raised by residents and requested details on the type and placement of portable lighting the venue would use, sound systems, traffic control measures and the conditions of a 1.5 acre grass field adjacent to the barn proposed for parking.
“Sound carries, especially out there,” board member Peter Rea said. “I don’t know how you determine what would be appropriate or inappropriate.”
Board members also voiced confusion over estimates that up to 200 guests would attend events considering the barn’s maximum occupancy is capped at 100 individuals. Plans to contain overflowing events at the property in tents were apparently not reassuring.
“You’re saying possibly 200 people there,” Deputy Chair Nicholas Armour said.
The average wedding size is around 100 people, according to Goode, who was clear the venue would not be appropriate for larger events and indicated other sites would be sought for such occasions.
Worried about potential impacts to neighbors, John Hutchison suggested capping the number of events that could be held each month. Town Attorney Michael Crowe noted the board does not have that authority, but can regulate the hours of operation.
With concerns still looming, the board took up Crowe’s suggestion to open the public hearing on the proposal next month to gather input from residents to help shape the application process and keep it open until all materials required to complete the project review have been received.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: