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PZC Allows One Special Event at Riney Residence

KENT—The Planning and Zoning Commission last week reluctantly allowed an Oct. 13 wedding to take place at the John Riney residence on Flat Rock Road.

The Rineys had previously hosted unpermitted events on their 25-acre property, but in September, following a public outcry, withdrew their belated application for a Planning and Zoning permit to operate a wedding venue.

Despite withdrawing the application, the Rineys applied last week for a special permit for “a combined family event,” according to Land Use Administrator Tai Kern. “It just came up this afternoon,” Kern told the Planning and Zoning Commission during its Oct. 12 meeting. “They asked to fill out an application for a tent permit, but when the tent went up, I got 10 million calls. Some people were nice, some not so nice.”

She said that neighbors had found the bridal couple’s website. “We did not know it was a wedding,” reported Kern. When she questioned the Rineys, she was told the wedding was for a long-time close friend of Sarah (Riney) O’Connell, who originally wanted to operate the commercial wedding venue on the site.

“There’s been a lot of outcry for a cease-and-desist order,” said Kern. “Neighbors are saying they will call the police, but we have no proof that it is a commercial event. I’m not saying it’s not; I just don’t know.”

In Kent, landowners are allowed to have events on their land for family and friends. Events such as fundraisers are allowed once a year. 

PZC Chairman Matt Winter noted that the commission decided in September that the Rineys could fill out an application for one special event per year. 

Member Adam Manes said that if the Rineys “came before us and told us it was a wedding, it’s something we allow any property owner to have. We would have to have had some reason not to approve. I don’t think we could have denied it.”

Winter said it could have been denied “if we knew money was changing hands,” adding business is not allowed in rural residential zones.

Manes wondered how to handle it next year “when this comes up again and they have another ‘friend.’ With the millions of people they have on Facebook, these people are not listed as friends. I don’t believe these are long-time friends. I feel this is a wedding they are putting on through their business, but they still asked for a special event permit.”

Winter said approval for the permit had been granted and the PZC had two options. “They were vague in the application, so do we say we didn’t get all the information we needed and that we would have made a different decision, and issue a cease and desist? Or we do nothing, eyes wide open?”

Karen Casey suggested, “The best thing is to allow it and make them accountable, to make sure they know this is it for this year. The neighbors are not going to be happy, but in this gray area it’s the most reasonable approach. They have been naughty and broken rules in the past, so they need to be warned.”

“I don’t see how to stop it at this point,” agreed Manes. “We could do a cease and desist, but we don’t know anything factual. This is a notice for all of us for next year when they want to have another event for another good friend.”

Member Darrell Cherniske said everyone in town has the right to one special event a year. “Everyone in town wants to have that right. In the absence of proof, we should let it go forward. There will be plenty of observers in neighborhood in case anything happens out of the ordinary.”

Manes said that past events had not presented problems. “The neighbors didn’t want it to be a regular thing. The music invades all the neighborhood and can be bothersome.”

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