Editorial: Wedding wars

Posted 9/22/17

With great enthusiasm, Town Meeting voters in Westport approved an ‘agri-tourism’ measure a couple of years back that would allow all sorts of fun on farms.

They did it because farmers say …

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Editorial: Wedding wars

Posted

With great enthusiasm, Town Meeting voters in Westport approved an ‘agri-tourism’ measure a couple of years back that would allow all sorts of fun on farms.

They did it because farmers say they need the revenue to make a go of it these days, and they did it over the futile voices of a few who dared worry about the loose wording — for instance, isn’t a five-acre ‘farm’ a bit small for outdoor concerts?

So Little Compton must be watching with amusement as some in Westport react with horror to a farmer’s announcement that he wants to open the barn door to weddings at his Weatherlow Farms.

Little Compton (Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard), Portsmouth (Greenvale Vineyard) — lots of places are fighting this fight, and they know that Westport had best prepare for a long, expensive, nasty bout.

It became quickly apparent that Westport’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and the zoning official who handed the mess off to them, had little clue how to handle it.

That’s not their fault. The code that is supposed to guide them gets fuzzy (as one put it) on the details.

A guiding principal in these cases seems to be that the ‘agri-entertainment’ needs somehow to be linked to agriculture.

At Sakonnet Vineyard, where concerts and weddings have both been issues, it’s been tied to promoting the vineyard’s wines.

At Weatherlow Farms, the idea is to supply the wedding tables with the farm’s food and flowers — “our proteins and our flowers.”

But neighbors, some of whom were probably happy supporters of ‘agritourism’ until it suddenly arrived next door, say that’s a stretch when used to justify amplified music, crowds, lots of cars (even buses), and drinking for weekends on end.

It makes as much sense, they might argue, to suggest that tractor pulls and off-road vehicle races, with a topping of concerts and fireworks —a sort of back-forty Seekonk Speedway — be allowed since such vehicles are part of farming.

Perhaps — the rules aren’t precise on this.

Helping farmers, preserving agricultural traditions, and enabling the protection of open space are all worthy goals.

But until the rule makers get specific about what towns really want on their farms, be prepared.

At town hall at least, it’s going to get loud.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.