Outdoor weddings are big business here. What could be more romantic than holding a wedding in an open field with the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop? And inviting a hundred close friends to an open-air reception, with the DJ playing your (really loud) favorite music? Maybe add some fireworks and air horns to celebrate. Or maybe it’s not a wedding, and you just want to hold a really big noisy party on that remote hillside.
Unless that hillside’s not so remote. Like when the “event barn” is in the middle of an established residential community. Then the loud music destroys every vestige of our neighborhood’s peace and quiet, and the traffic on our narrow country road creates gridlock.
What if an ambulance or firetruck has to get through?
Buncombe County doesn’t regulate these events on properties zoned as open use. The original intent of OU zoning was to protect rural enterprises from undue restrictions. Most residents of OU districts have chosen to live here because we want a slower, quieter life, close to the land and its natural rhythms. We want to live in a peaceful community where we have some space to stretch out. Let the kids play in the woods, plant a garden or raise a few chickens. Invite friends to sit on the deck on a warm summer evening.
But clever entrepreneurs are exploiting the loopholes offered by OU zoning. They often promote their events as “agribusiness,” because they’ve discovered how lucrative it can be to rent out a piece of farmland for the weekend. Regardless of what the neighbors think about the noise and traffic.
Article IV (Noise) Section 26-181 of the Buncombe County general ordinance prohibits any noise that interferes with the “peace, dignity or good order” of the neighborhood — specifically those that are “unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary.” But someone’s got to file the complaint and go to court, where they will likely go up against well-paid lawyers hired by the event-venue owners to defend their business.
The N.C. Department of Transportation says we can install speed bumps (“traffic calming devices”) on our narrow, dead-end road — but we will have to pay for the “devices” and foot the bill for a traffic engineering study to determine need and location.
The best solution? Get the county to add a permitting aspect to the OU zoning structure, something that requires event-venue managers to request (and pay for) a permit for any commercial gathering of more than 20 people. The permit could restrict the number of participants and vehicles, set clear limits on noise, limit or ban alcohol consumption, confirm security arrangements and acquire signoff from all neighbors within, say, 600 feet of the venue.
This wouldn’t restrict gatherings of family or friends. And it would help promote real agritourism (farm tours, farm stand businesses, educational programs) and the normal operation of a real farm.
Until that happens, we all have to be ready to call the Sheriff’s Office to file noise complaints and request traffic control.
We need to restore a semblance of peace and quiet to our mountain communities.
— Sarah Blanchard