The usual suspects, and a few new ones, got up and spoke in favor, or against, the proposed venue owned by Linda and John Cleaveland just off Wellington Neck Road in Northampton County.
Six spoke in favor of the special use permit, and cited the need of new business in Northampton County, one of the poorest counties in Virginia.
“We need new business,” said Kenny Carpenter of Exmore. “We can’t keep shrinking the tax base and expect that we who are left can absorb the tax increases.”
Other themes among supporters included property rights of landowners.
Linda Cleaveland said when she lived in Richmond she was a nurse and a wedding planner on weekends. When she married John and moved to the Shore, she saw the poverty and wanted to help bring money here, which is how the event venue idea began.
She also addressed the property being for sale in her comments, a concern which was raised several times in previous meetings. According to Cleaveland, they put the house on the market after her husband had a health scare. When the contract with the listing agent finished, John’s health problems had cleared up and they wanted to remain in the home. However, according to Cleaveland, the agent talked them into keeping it on the market because the sale of the $2.5 million property would allow them to retire comfortably. Once the second contract ended a couple weeks ago, the home was officially taken off the market.
Approximately twelve spoke in opposition. Criticisms of the proposed venue included the noise generated by weddings and amplified music, the dangerous nature of the turtle-necked Wellington Neck Road, the shape of the drive way shared by the Cleavelands with their neighbors the Crees and how this “commercial/industrial” use would affect the tranquility of the neighborhood. Many neighbors feared the venue would lower property values, and argued the reduction in value would hurt the tax base more than any potential gains in economic development of the County.
Evelyn and Joseph Whittick, who live near the proposed site, submitted a petition with 44 signatures of people opposed to the venue. Montaigne Cree, whose family has an easement on the Cleaveland’s driveway to get to their houses, showed a map showing the neighborhood opposition to the special use permit.
After the speeches in the public hearing were over, the Cleaveland’s attorney Carl Eason said the Cleavelands would limit the events from May through October, only allow events on weekends and limit guest lists to 200 people, as opposed to the original 500.
Supervisor Robert Duer said another venue would benefit the hotels, restaurants and the event rental business located in his district. He felt the weekend events would not be as much of a hinderance to the neighbors as some had speculated.
“There’s 11 letters in Northampton, but we can’t seem to get past the first two” commented Duer.
Dave Fauber commented he hasn’t heard complaints about the noise generated by other wedding venues, and that Northampton was in desperate need of economic development.
Supervisor John Coker gave a long detailed speech in opposition to the venue. According to Coker, the location was not suitable for an event venue within its zoning. He also felt uneasy about the strong neighborhood opposition, and said it wasn’t consistent with the comprehensive plan, which Supervisor Fauber objected to.
Finally Chairman Murray said he felt a wedding venue had been mischaracterized by several as a “commercial business.” Murray said commercial businesses operate almost every day of the year, and a wedding venue didn’t fit that description. He was looking for the balance, so he made a motion to approve the special use permit with the stipulations that the Cleavelands limit events between May 1 and September 30, they only hold 15 events a year, they limit the guest list to 200 people, there will be no amplified music after 10 PM, they will allow no use of the dock during events, there will be police presence at all events, they will plant appropriate vegetation to buffer noise, they will place special event signage on Wellington Neck and at the end of their driveway on event days and that the special use permit will be valid only for the Cleavelands as long as they own the property.
Robert Duer moved the timeline for events be extended through October, which was approved.
Supervisor Coker then accused Murray of not caring about the objections of the neighbors. Murray responded this decision, like all decisions with neighborhood opposition, are tough.
“If in Northampton County… neighbors’ objections are the only thing you listen to, you can stop anything,” commented Murray.
After Supervisor Oliver Bennett’s request to lower the amount of events per year from 15 to 10 failed to get a second, the Northampton County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the motion Murray had made 3-2, with Bennett and Coker voting against it.