A recent Commonwealth Court zoning case from Lawrence County again illustrates the tensions between property owners and municipalities in the recently evolving use of barns as “wedding barns” (sometimes called a “special event barn” or “special event venue”).

Wedding barns are increasingly a venue for special events to meet the market’s demand for such uses, since wedding and reception halls can be scarce in some areas.  As such, they are a legitimate and growing business use.  Also, they have their own special charm that is attractive for some individuals, their ceremonies, or other events.  The revenues provide the financial means to preserve and maintain the barns and other historic structures which lend a quaint character to rural townships.  But the challenge for those townships is to anticipate these uses and provide reasonable regulations in advance so that the wedding barns do not become a nuisance to neighbors or adversely affect the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

In the Wimer Realty, LLC v. Township of Wilmington, the applicant purchased a small farm which included a barn the applicant intended to renovate and improve at a cost of $2.2 million to use to hold weddings, receptions, and other events with up to 300 guests on a year-round basis.  However, the Township objected to the applicant’s proposed amendment of the Township’s zoning ordinance to allow that use.  The Township’s objection was largely based on its own pending amendment which addressed certain aspects of the wedding barn’s operation such as the number of events and guests, use of alcohol, and on-site food preparation.  Although the case was decided on procedural grounds in a lengthy opinion, the Court implied wedding barns are a legitimate business use.  From that, the Court determined that the Township’s zoning ordinance must allow wedding barns in the Township similar to the applicant’s proposal, but did not.  As a result, the Court concluded the zoning ordinance unlawfully excluded them from the Township, and affirmed the trial court’s order allowing the wedding barn in accordance with the applicant’s proposed curative amendment.

Do you have an idea for a wedding barn or another form of special event venue? The zoning lawyers at Zator Law have experience in obtaining approvals for such uses.  Or, are you concerned that your home might be adversely affected by a special event venue? We can help there too by bringing your concerns to the attention of your municipality to be addressed and resolved.

Contact us for more information.