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Wedding bells on hold at planned Old Cottage Grove venue

Outdoor weddings are becoming commonplace as more couples opt for a natural setting to say their vows. And, Old Cottage Grove residents Wayne and Angi Butt are hoping to capitalize on that trend with their plan to turn their 159-year-old farm into a wedding venue.

The couple appealed to the Cottage Grove Planning Commission last week with the intent of securing a historical places conditional use permit to refurbish a 130-foot dairy barn and turn it into a grand hall for weddings and other special events.

However, they were met with concerns from both neighboring homeowners and commission members regarding added traffic, light and noise pollution and the proposed installation of a temporary oversized tent.

"We like living in a picturesque neighborhood and living next to the barn," neighboring homeowner Aaron Rolloff said. "So we were initially glad to see the plan to (refurbish the barn). But, the part of the plan that has been extremely unappealing to me from the get go was to put a driveway immediately adjacent to our property. That was a huge red flag."

To facilitate the upward of 300 people Wayne said could attend any given event, their plans include construction of a second access point on the southern portion of the property.

While Cottage Grove Senior Planner John McCool said Lamar Avenue is capable of handling the added traffic, he said he does empathize with adjacent homeowners.

"There may be an adverse impact to residential properties," McCool said. "The access drive is connected to 70th Street, which is right across from single family homes. And, vehicles leaving at dusk or late in the evening, their headlights will be shining into those properties."

Another nearby neighbor said his concern relates to the amount of noise that could come from a wedding, large gathering or other events the Butts are proposing to hold at their farm.

"It's really a quality of life issue," John Higgs said about the potential for amplified noise. "It's so very quiet up there now."

McCool said the operation would have to adhere to strict noise ordinances currently in city code and would require the couple to take a decibel threshold reading from the property line to obtain noise amplification readings.

"We want it to be so quiet back there that our neighbors don't even know that an event is going on," Wayne said. "I can't stop the police from being summoned and things might happen that will be out of our control, but we will do what we can to minimize the activity to keep this thing going forward."

A third concern for both the commission and neighbors is the proposal to erect a large white tent to accommodate guests during the barn rehabilitation phase of the project. While Wayne said the tent would be removed immediately after events, it was an aesthetic concern for commission member Ken Brittain, who suggested moving the tent behind the barn.

"The grading and parking area needs to be done and will go behind the barn," said architect David Harris, who is working on the project with the Butts. "We are trying to keep the area looking as if it were still 1947 and so the parking needs to be shoved in the back."

The wedding venue is not scheduled to open until next year at the earliest, Wayne said, and asked for the commission to allow him to use the tent for an undetermined amount of time to gain revenue. However, commissioner Wayne Johnson said "the open time frame makes me nervous" and asked for the city to work with the Butts on creating a more solid business plan.

"Work with staff right now and I think we are saying no to the tent, but there are other issues that need to be worked out," Brittain said. "I think what you are trying to do is great, but it could have a significant impact on neighbors and we have to be cognisant of that."