shut off the lights, turn down the music and be OUT BY 6

July 2, 2005

One of the premiere wedding venues in the Columbia Gorge could be effectively shut down if its owners lose an appeal before the Hood River County Commission on Tuesday.

Jim and Allyson Pate, owners of Lakecliff Bed & Breakfast located at 3820 Westcliff Drive, were notified by the Hood River County Planning Commission in March that restrictions had been placed on their conditional use permit for hosting weddings. The restrictions, which take effect next year, include limiting the number of guests to 50 and ending functions by 6 p.m.

“That means the difference between us being relatively successful and not,” said Allyson Pate, who has been hosting weddings at Lakecliff since she and Jim bought the property in 2001. The 100-year-old home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on three and a half wooded acres overlooking the Columbia River.

The Pates have invested heavily in the property over the last few years to make it a premiere wedding destination, constructing a permanent dance floor on the expansive lawn, making improvements to the parking area, adding landscaping features and plantings, and installing lighting.

Last summer Allyson hosted 14 weddings at Lakecliff. By last fall she was already booked with 14 weddings for this summer as well — the maximum she will host.

She has tentatively booked several weddings for next summer, but many of the potential clients are waiting for the outcome of the Pates’ appeal.

“If weddings have to end at 6 p.m., and be limited to 50 guests, they’ll go somewhere else,” Allyson said. Weddings at Lakecliff currently are required to end at 10 p.m. and are limited to 150 guests.

The issues arose after the property to the west of Lakecliff was purchased last year by Tom and Susan Hilb of Denver, Colo.

The Hilbs and their grown children, including Mike Hilb and his wife, Shala, who live in Hood River, have told the county they plan to build a family compound on the property.

In letters to the county and testimony before the planning commission, the Hilbs have expressed concern about the weddings held at Lakecliff and how they will impact their future homes, as well as the property value.

Repeated attempts by the Hood River News to reach the Hilbs for comment were unsuccessful. However, in a letter to the planning commission last September, Tom and Susan Hilb complained about access to their property being “greatly reduced” by the weddings at Lakecliff. In addition, the couple wrote that the weddings create “a very unusual amount of activity and noise for a residential neighborhood” for three days surrounding the event. They called the noise “unbearable” and stated “we cannot use our beautiful site on any summer weekend.”

Allyson Pate is upset by the complaints, and what she sees as the Hilbs’ concerted efforts to shut her wedding business down — especially since they have not yet started to build on their property or to occupy it. According to the Hood River County Planning Department, no permits have been issued for the Hilbs’ Westcliff Drive parcel.

The Pates’ closest neighbors, Max and Karon Peterson, who live directly next door to the east, have never had problems with the weddings at Lakecliff. The Petersons called the Pates “excellent neighbors.”

“They are very concerned about our concerns and those of the other neighbors and have jumped through hoops trying to appease everyone,” Max Peterson said. “The Pates have come over to our property many times to be sure that the noise from the weddings is not a problem.” He said the only noise problem they’ve ever had during their eight years on their property came from a late-night wedding at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Noise from Lakecliff weddings “has never been a problem,” he said.

“If we are in the house, we cannot hear it at all,” he said. “If we’re outside, it is muted, not unpleasant and always ends early in the evening.” The Petersons said they welcome weddings at Westcliff — and at other such venues in town — because they have “little lasting physical impact on the community other than bringing Hood River tremendous good will and lots of money.”

Last year, the Pates hired Rains & Associates to do a review of the economic impact of their wedding business on Hood River County. The study, published in November 2004, found that weddings at Lakecliff brought more than 1,800 people to the county last year. Total dollars spent per wedding averaged $43,356. The report found that Lakecliff “directly impacted 76 companies including hotels, wineries, rental companies, photographers, florists and caterers.” As a result of bringing out-of-town visitors to the area, the report stated, “Lakecliff also secondarily impacted a number of restaurants and recreation providers which we are not able to quantify.”

Rains & Associates estimated the total economic impact on the county from Lakecliff’s weddings last year at $1,517,482.

“We really have an impact,” Allyson said. “With the economy in Hood River as it is, we think the wedding business is worth saving.”

Allyson Pate finds her predicament a bit ironic. She was a member of a committee that worked with the county last year to develop detailed criteria for bed-and-breakfasts, farms and wineries to get conditional use permits to host weddings. The resulting ordinance came in response to increasing demand for Hood River County wedding venues, and in recognition of the fact that such events bring a welcome — and low-impact — economic boost to the county.

The detailed ordinance includes such criteria as limiting guest numbers, ending events at 10 p.m., limiting noise to a specific decibel level (60 decibels as measured at any property line of a party filing a complaint), and lighting restrictions.

The Pates have installed numerous upgrades on their property to comply with the so-called “bed-and-breakfast ordinance,” as well as to address — and avoid — complaints from neighbors. Most recently, after complaints last year by a neighbor several doors down about parking on Westcliff Drive during weddings at Lakecliff, the Pates agreed to require cars to park only on the south side of the road inside designated parking signs which they paid to install.

According to the Pates, since addressing the parking situation they’ve received no complaints about any wedding-related circumstance from current neighbors.

If the Pates’ appeal fails, Allyson will be able to host only “garden-style” afternoon weddings limited to 50 guests (fewer than half her average wedding of 129). Allyson said demand for such events at a venue like Lakecliff is low.

There are other ironies not lost on Allyson Pate. The Columbia Gorge Hotel, for example, located to the west of Lakecliff and the Hilbs’ property (and upwind of them) hosts several times the number of weddings each year that Lakecliff does. The hotel is a commercial venue and therefore doesn’t have to adhere to regulations in the bed-and-breakfast ordinance, such as ending at 10 p.m. and limiting guest numbers.

And not the least of ironies is that the property purchased by the Hilbs is a noisy place.

“They bought property next to a freeway, above train tracks and sandwiched between two wedding businesses,” Allyson said. “It’s like someone buying a house next to the airport and then complaining about the planes flying over.”

Even so, the Pates feel their weddings contribute very little to the overall noise of the neighborhood.

“We’re talking six hours a day for 14 Saturdays a year,” Allyson said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

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