Who would think that it would take Chaffee County to classify weddings as “outdoor theater?” As far as is commonly understood, the United States Federal Government, state governments, religious organizations and indeed, the general public, view the act of getting married not as theater – but as a real and legal action. Certainly, the fact that it creates a taxable married status would seem to remove marriage ceremonies from the imaginary world of “theater.”
But that unusual stance is exactly what the county seems to have done by identifying weddings that take place on the bucolic surroundings of The Meadows Farm LLC (county land adjacent to the Town of Buena Vista) not as religious events – but as “outdoor theater.”
In a saga that began on Oct. 23, 2018, the county issued a cease and desist order to Jed Selby, owner of The Meadow based on Land Use Code Section 2.3.1A “that marketing and using the property as a wedding venue is similar to use as an outdoor theater.” It requires that he apply for a special event permit to rent his land to private entities and submit to a Major Impact Review.
Ark Valley Voice has learned via a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, in December 2018, Selby initially responded to the county’s demand that it was his view, under Chaffee County LUC 2.2 permitted uses and LUC 4.2.6, that the county’s claims were not supported by the code: “a private event, conducted at a private residence, that is not for a commercial purpose or fundraising and that is reasonably considered to be a private event (such as graduation parties, holiday family gatherings, weddings, funerals and picnics) is not considered to be a special event.”
Selby is complying with the county’s request. But the fact that the county has raised this question about property owners who rent their land to others for private events that do not have a commercial purpose, raises a major issue. If the land is rented, but the property owners don’t rent the tables, the chairs, staff the event, provide the flowers, the food or the photographer – whether for weddings, family reunions, hunting retreats, private truck rallies or just as a hay field – why should property owners be required to go through the lengthy and costly process of obtaining a special event permit, when it’s not their event?
The county’s demand has come about, not because of comments related to the public Live Nation concert held on the same property (which is covered by a special-event-permit), but the demand has apparently occurred because neighbors John and Teresa Simmons, complained first to Commissioner Keith Baker and then to County Attorney Jennie Davis, that The Meadows owner, Jed Selby, must be violating some county rules. (If there are others who have complained about the use of The Meadows outside of the Live Nation Event, those complaints were not provided under AVV‘s CORA request.) There appears to be no indication that the county is taking a comprehensive view of special event permits for private events.
Baker’s Sept. 9, 2018 response to Simmons: “The frequency of events on The Meadows property that don’t qualify as ‘special events’ under the Chaffee County special events ordinance does raise the need to examine zoning and use categories for the property.”
In his Oct. 25 message to the county attorney, Simmons makes the suggestion about the residentially-zoned Meadows property that “if an application for a wedding venue is filed, wouldn’t that require re-zoning from ‘agricultural’ to ‘business?’” (For the record, the property is zoned residential. ‘Agricultural’ is a tax status, not a land use zone. Should the property ever be zoned business or commercial, it would be difficult to imagine it retaining any semblance to a meadow, or for that matter, residential use.)
The county’s order directs Selby not to rent his property for any further events until he undergoes a Major Impact Review to obtain a special event permit. That permit for private events would be on top of three permits for the already-scheduled, 2019 public events.
Communications with the county’s Heart of the Rockies Wedding Association last week reveals that the leaders have no idea which venues in the association have the kind of special events permits the county now appears to require. Nor do they know whether or not the county actually has a process ensuring the land use code it says it is enforcing is being applied equally, or consistently, or if enforcement occurs simply because someone complains.
The complaints against The Meadows and Selby include a spreadsheet of events and venues that Simmons implies violate county rules. They include at least four weddings. He makes the claim, without any substantiation, that Selby’s actions are causing other businesses in the county to lose money. The continuous contact between the Simmons and the county staff and elected official is familiar, insistent and includes some colorful language that can’t be repeated here.
The spreadsheet intrusively includes actual links to the wedding websites of couples who were married at the property, or who were planning to be married there; while placing private information intended for wedding guests into the public record, subject to a CORA. It also lists near-by short-term rentals that mention The Meadows; as if other businesses mentioning adjacency to a place or activity would be within the control of Selby or other members of the Heart of the Rockies Wedding Association, should neighbors began to complain about their rental venues.
If Chaffee County is indeed interested in “ensuring regulations are enforced equally with all citizens and all properties,” then it would seem that enforcement would reflect consistency and fairness. The question is – does it?