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New chapter in Deschutes farm-wedding debate

By Kim Tobin
Published On: Jan 31 2013 09:19:36 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Kim Tobin spoke with one Central Oregon man who is trying to get approval to have weddings on his property, so he's decided to try a new approach.

BEND, Ore. -

Deschutes County has been grappling for many years over whether and how to allow property owners to host weddings on land zoned for farming.

A Sisters-area man said Thursday he's hoping to get a private park permit for his proposed wedding venue, and believes it will boost the local economy.

John Shepherd owns 216 acres of land, with breathtaking views of the Cascades and miles of land in a canyon below. It's a place many brides would dream of getting married.

"There's nothing I would rather do than participate in a wedding," Shepherd said. "There's all the joy, and a new life, and a new union being formed."

Shepherd has a one-stop shop for weddings. He has a deck for the rehearsal dinner, an arch for the ceremony and a pavilion for the reception.

But state and local officials have wrestled with those requests, and balancing them with neighbors' concerns about traffic, dust and noise.

A new state law allows people to apply for commercial venue permits, but it has to be a working farm, which Shepherd's land isn't.

But Shepherd's land also is far from neighbors, so instead, he's applying for a private park permit.

"It's untested waters at the state level, so there's really not precedent," said Deschutes County Planning Director Nick Lelack. "There's no certain path. It's not clear yet or not whether he could gain approval on it. So it's a big risk."

Just to even apply for the permit, it will cost Shepherd $8,200. He was hopeful the fee would be waived, because of the economic benefits his venue could have.

"It would provide employment for vendors, for dress shops, for florists, for DJs, photographers," said Shepherd. "It would generate so much income and economic activity, that it's a shame the county isn't helping me move this forward in a more expedient matter."

But county commissioners refused to waive the fee on Wednesday. They say the Community Development Department is fully fee-funded, and it could set a precedent for others.

"The board only decided on the fee waiver request yesterday," Lelack said. "A couple of the commissioners showed support for considering this issue, and seeing an application at some point in the future."

With lots of interest from brides from out of town already, Shepherd is ready to get started.

"It's a win for me and my family, so I can pay my taxes," Shepherd said. "It's a win for the brides and their guests, and it's a win for the county because of all the people it employs and all the taxes it generates. It creates this tremendous engine of economic activity. So who's losing? No one is losing."

While the permit fee is a challenge, Shepherd is hopeful and optimistic about moving forward with the process.

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