A rural event center expected to host weddings, corporate retreats, wine-tastings and other large gatherings received the green light from the Yolo County Planning Commission on Thursday despite objections from neighbors worried about increased traffic and noise in the area.
The event center — which would hold a maximum of 12 events a year between May and October — would occupy about 2.5 acres on the 37.5-acre FreeHeart Farm, on County Road 22 about two miles southwest of Esparto.
Owners Larry and Lynn Rolston live on the property, which is also home to a large almond orchard. The event center would be located behind their house.
In urging approval of a use permit for the center, Lynn Rolston told commissioners, “We have met with our neighbors and taken very, very seriously any complaint that has come to us (and) intend to continue doing that.”
Regarding concerns about noise from weddings and parties, she said, “Our intent is to be non-intrusive and so we’re very open to working with our neighbors to see what we can do.”
Rolston also said guests would be strongly encouraged to car-pool or use small buses or vans to reduce traffic in the area.
Neighbors, however, said the negative impacts would be unavoidable.
“I don’t care what my neighbors do, but I do care when it impacts me and my family,” said Brian Paddock.
In a letter to the commission, Paddock and several other neighbors noted that the event center would be located within hearing distance of 21 homes and expressed concern about guests leaving events where alcohol is served to travel along the narrow, winding County Road 22.
“I want Larry and Lynn to be successful and I want the proposed event center to be a good neighbor,” neighbor Katy Vigil-McClanahan told commissioners.
That boils down to two things, she said: “Being reasonably quiet and keeping the road safe.”
In her written statement, Vigil-McClanahan said, “Our larger concern is traffic.”
“We walk Road 22 with our baby, as do several neighbors and their children from the town of Esparto. Already, some cars take the corner too fast and have smashed into trees … or swerved off the road. … The street needs a 25 mph sign and some active source of traffic calming. … Adding 100-plus new drivers to the road every weekend is a recipe for more such accidents, particularly if alcohol is involved.”
Lynn Rolston agreed that County Road 22 “is an inappropriate way to have the traffic go.”
“We used to have signs out there (and) would love to have them back again,” she told commissioners.
The use permit will require the Rolstons to provide both signage and maps to guests that limit their use of County Road 22.
“We will do everything possible to limit the number of cars in attendance at any event by encouraging car-pooling,” Rolston added. “We want to work with all of you and we’re hoping that you’ll give us a chance to give it a try and we can always come back here before you if there are too many neighbor complaints.”
After hearing from both Rolston and opponents, planning commissioners spent a good chunk of the two-hour hearing Thursday trying to accommodate concerns by changing the conditions for the use permit before voting unanimously to approve it.
Under the conditions of the approved permit, the event center could host a maximum of 150 guests with parking limited to no more than 100 cars. Noise levels would be limited to 75 decibels and would be monitored by FreeHeart Farm staff, who would record sound levels for the first three events and provide the data to neighbors and the county.
Additionally, the access road and parking area will have to be covered in gravel and the Planning Commission will review the use permit following the first season of operation to determine whether it should be revoked.
Several neighbors who attended the hearing, however, remained unsatisfied with the conditions.
Remaining concerns included the number of guests and cars allowed — suggestions were for 80 guests maximum rather than 150 — the removal of almond trees on the property as part of the project and that 75 decibels for a sound limit was too high.
Neighbor Helen Voss also noted that large events require delivery of everything from tables and chairs to sound equipment, “and all those big trucks bringing everything for the weddings … they’ll come right by our house. It does impact us.”
She also expressed concern about the total number of events.
While the use permit limits commercial events to 12 total between May and October, non-commercial events — which include everything from family parties to church picnics — are not regulated by the county, something several neighbors expressed frustration with.
Kate Hart, an attorney representing Cynthia and Mark Havstad — who live closest to the event center — said her clients will be discussing whether to appeal the commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy