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Spotsylvania panel opposes temporary permit limits

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The owners of the Eden Try wedding venue in Spotsylvania County are fighting a proposal that would put an annual cap on weddings at their property.

“This begs the question—why are you fixing something that is not broken, especially when it will certainly cause undue hardship?” Linda Morrison, who co-owns the 12-acre venue off River Road, asked at a Planning Commission meeting last month.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday agreed with her sentiment, voting 5–0 against a proposal that says county staff can issue no more than three temporary event permits annually at any one location. Spotsylvania currently has no limit on the permits, which allow activities such as weddings, bazaars, small fairs and fireworks displays.

“We haven’t had a problem with it; we haven’t had the law involved; we haven’t had any big stink over it,” said Planning Commission member Richard Thompson, whose Courtland District includes Eden Try. “I don’t see any reason to fix it.”

Commissioner Mary Lee Carter was absent from Wednesday’s meeting, and commissioner Travis Bullock abstained.

The Board of Supervisors will have the final say on the issue, which has been on the table since November.

For Eden Try, the proposal would mean it could host a maximum of three weddings a year, with anything above that requiring approval from supervisors. The wedding venue received eight temporary event permits in 2011 but only two in 2012 and three last year, according to a county spokeswoman.

Spotsylvania issued 56 temporary permits in 2013 for a variety of small events, Zoning Administrator Troy Tignor said. The proposed cap on permits would not have affected the vast majority of those activities.

Large events like concerts require a different permit that must be OK’d by supervisors.

Courtland District Supervisor David Ross offered a different take on the issue than Thompson, his appointee on the Planning Commission.

The current policy, he said, is a way around special-use permits, which require public hearings and board approval. The county needs to close that loophole for money-making activities on residential property, he wrote in an email, “especially when neighbors are impacted in the form of noise, traffic, safety, etc.”

Stevenson Ridge, a popular wedding venue off Courthouse Road, has a special-use permit that allows it to host an unlimited number of events.

Eden Try applied for such a permit last year.

The Planning Commission voted in favor of the request—which some nearby residents opposed—but the wedding venue withdrew its application before the supervisors took a vote.

Asked whether the proposed limit on temporary permits is targeting Eden Try, co-owner Gary Gratopp said: “It’s just ironic it came out after we pulled the special-use permit.”

Morrison, the other co-owner, said they withdrew their special-use permit application after learning that supervisors planned to turn it down.

Morrison and Gratopp said the proposal would have a negative impact on others, not just them.

“No one benefits from this change,” Gratopp said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402