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County still monitoring wedding venue

(7/15) When Bertrand and Deborah Newcomer, Mount Airy, purchased the circa approximately 30-acre Engedi Estate, located at 15014 Sixes Bridge Road, it seemed they felt that a dream of a lifetime had come true.

"When we first bought the property in ’04, we were looking for a place to do a bed and breakfast," Bertrand Newcomer told the Frederick County Board of Appeals at a special exception on March 27. "The property is beautiful. It lends itself nicely for that…" Newcomer said, "We (even) checked the zoning to make sure the property had the potential to be rezoned."

However, their bed and breakfast aspirations aside, the couple ultimately decided to establish a wedding venue on the farm, a move that drew the ire of a number of property owners living in the vicinity of the property.

The applicants defined the scope of the venue at that hearing as involving the use of the 1,200 square foot home on the property, along with a converted two-car garage/preparation building, and a 50x100 pavilion building. The majority of the property would continue to be used for farming, they stated.

Complaints lodged against the operation revolved largely around traffic concerns and noise (see related story 'All quiet' on the wedding front...for now in this issue of the News-Journal). "I know there’s been opposition to this," Newcomer stated on March 27. "(We) had no clue the opposition was to the point that it is."

Complaints lodged against the wedding venue reportedly resulted in the Newcomers being compelled to come before the county Board of Appeals to gain the proper permissions to conduct their proposed operation. The property owners applied for a special exception that would have allowed them to conduct their wedding venue as a country inn. That request was denied by the appeals board.

The denial then resulted in the Newcomers applying for and being granted seven temporary outdoor activity permits to allow them to conduct weddings on their farm.

Noise complaints continued, but inspections of the site revealed another issue, a "commercial parking lot" that the Newcomers had reportedly constructed on their farm site to facilitate parking at the wedding events they were hosting.

The property owners were advised on June 4 by county Zoning Inspector Bill Bigelow that "zoning staff has observed during a site visit that a parking lot existed on your property… is in violation" of Frederick County regulations, specifically with regards to the failure to obtain and zoning certificate and building permit beforehand.

The zoning notification letter further stated that the property owners had until July 1 to return the parking lot to "its previous condition." Or face a fine of up to $100 per day for failure to comply.

On July 2, a second letter (a warning citation) was sent to the Newcomers from Bigelow reiterating the violation and giving the property owners until August 2 to remediate the unauthorized parking lot.

To date the county has not received any new applications for temporary outdoor activity permits.

The issuance of any future permits may depend on compliance the venue’s track record of compliance, according to county Zoning Administrator Larry Smith.

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