Taking advantage of the rustic-wedding trend, Sprague Corp. in Cape Elizabeth hopes to receive a special permit allowing it to host outdoor events on a hayfield at its Ram Island Farm property.
Sprague said in its site plan application that its goal would be to hold 12 events between July and October each year. The Cape Elizabeth Planning Board was scheduled to get its first look at the special event permit request on Tuesday, after the Current’s print deadline.
The idea, according to the application, would be for the company to allow temporary tents, portable restrooms, temporary signs and a portable generator to be set up to accommodate wedding parties of up to 275.
The application said the outdoor venue would primarily be used for weddings, but would also be available for events such as family reunions or corporate outings.
John Greene, the farm’s property manager, did not return a request for comment on the Sprague Corp. proposal, but according to information he provided to the Town Council last June, the farm was scheduled to host six weddings last summer.
Last year, when the town learned that Ram Island Farm was holding special events and being compensated, a new Special Events Facility Overlay District was created, which covers properties that are a minimum of 15 acres. Ram Island has 2,100 acres.
Until the new ordinance was passed, residents in Cape Elizabeth were not allowed to advertise a residential property as a business for functions, such as weddings or banquets, that require a fee, according to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara.
Even under the new overlay district, those wishing to hold large special events on their private property must also receive site plan approval from the Planning Board, O’Meara said this week.
In addition to the acreage requirement, the special event district designation also limits the number of functions to 12 per year, each with no more than 275 attendees, which includes staff as well as guests. Also, music, amplified by speakers, for instance, is only allowed between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“There’s practical concerns, such as sanitation, parking (and) noise” that the town must consider, Ben McDougal, Cape’s code enforcement officer, said in a previous interview.
The special-venue property owned by the Spraque Corp. is known as Wentworth Lodge and includes a three-bedroom residence that can be rented on a short-term basis.
O’Meara said it’s her understanding that typically wedding parties rent the cottage for the weekend, while holding the actual ceremony and reception outdoors.
The use of Wentworth Lodge as a special-event venue “just sort of evolved into a way of generating revenue” for the farm, O’Meara said, which is why the town took action last year to regulate these sorts of uses.
While wedding parties can rent the cottage, the special-event permit makes it clear that the building itself cannot be used by guests during the gatherings, she said.
Since the Special Event Overlay District was created, several other large landowners in town have also expressed an interest in getting a special-event permit, particularly farmers, O’Meara said.
She said, however, that if farms wanted to host one or two events in their barns, no special permission would be required, as long as the principal use of the property continues to be for agriculture.
In Scarborough, Flaherty’s Family Farm opened its new Event Barn last year. The barn is located on 16 acres and features a picturesque field and a woodland gazebo.
Rustic weddings in barns or hayfields are “wildly popular” with couples planning weddings, according to the online Special Events magazine. Rustic settings are popular because of a “preference for (a) relaxed instead of regal” event, the magazine said. It also said that the choice of a rustic wedding is more of a mindset than based on any particular demographic.
What these events have in common, according to the magazine, is a desire for a comfortable, intimate affair that’s not stuffy.
The rustic-wedding trend doesn’t only impact on the choice of venue, the magazine added, but also on the choice of dress, the flowers and even what is served to guests, with many rustic weddings also offering a locavore menu.
O’Meara doesn’t expect the Planning Board to take any action on the Sprague Corp. request for a special-event permit until at least June 21, saying that the board still needs to schedule a site walk and hold a public hearing before any final approvals are granted.
The special-event permits are good for three years before being renewed.
Ram Island Farm has 16 year-round family residences, six seasonal residences, hay fields, several orchards and three historic cemeteries.
An overview of the 2,100-acre Ram Island Farm in Cape Elizabeth, which is owned by the Sprague Corp. The company hopes to officially offer weddings in a hayfield there this summer.