Wedding Business Pits Neighbors Against One Another in Bigfork

By Beacon Staff

BIGFORK – The residents who live along McCaffery Road are the type of people who “don’t poke their noses over the fence,” Dan DeMars said. But a number of recent weddings at the Ten Arrows Ranch have raised ears and complaints from nearby neighbors who say the events are noisy, disruptive and don’t belong in the quiet neighborhood near Bigfork.

“It’s not going to work here. It’s over the top and it’s not good for the neighborhood,” DeMars said. “They have showed a total disregard for the neighbors – it’s all about dollars and cents.”

“They” are Bill and Alana Myers who have lived on the ranch for 17 years and began hosting weddings in 2012. The Myerses say they are concerned about the weddings’ impact on neighbors and are taking steps to reduce noise, but also want to remind residents of the economic benefits of hosting nearly two-dozen weddings since June.

“We want to be good neighbors, which is why we’re enacting new policies … (But) we’re not the only ones who are making money from this. People hire caterers and photographers and go out to eat and shop,” said Alana, who estimates the weddings she has hosted have brought in more than $3.6 million to the local economy.

The Myerses first began hosting weddings for friends and family at no cost. In December 2012, they joined MyMontanaWedding.com, an online registry for people looking to get hitched in Northwest Montana. They hosted their first commercial wedding last June and charged $3,500 for use of the property, a barn, a tent, chairs and tables.

It was at about the same time that neighbors noticed the noise and impact from the events. DeMars said after one wedding he found a handful of burned Chinese lanterns on his property, which he said was especially concerning because of the high fire danger. Then there was the additional traffic and people turning into his driveway when they missed the ranch entrance. On top of all that was the noise and music late into the night.

“I can’t be on my back porch and have a normal conversation because of all the noise,” said Lance Morgan, who has lived in the area since 2002. “It’s unfair to put a noisy business in the middle of a neighborhood.”

The Myerses acknowledge one party in June got out of hand (neighbors dispute that and contend multiple parties have gone on well past dark). Since June, the Myerses have asked that wedding parties turn their music down after 10:30 p.m. and that it be played only inside the barn. They ask that all guests leave by midnight, and the Chinese lanterns that DeMars found on his property are now banned. Alana said the steps made to appease other residents are working. She said they have walked to the edge of their property during the weddings and that the noise isn’t disruptive or overbearing.

Alana says most of the weddings at the Ten Arrows Ranch are small, averaging 120 people. She also said the alternatives could be worse. The Myerses’ land is zoned as SAG-5 Suburban Agricultural. Usually that means a small farm or home, but conditional uses include an airfield, an animal clinic, bed and breakfast and church, among many others.

“The (weddings) are once a week for three months of the year,” Alana said. “And when you consider the other options, including a school, a nursing home, a hog farm or an RV park, a wedding business is pretty calm.”

Dan DeMars stands on his property in Bigfork and talks about the impact weddings at the Ten Arrows Ranch are having on local residents. – Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.

But while several SAG-5 conditional uses are mentioned in the Flathead County Zoning Regulations, a commercial wedding facility is not among them, according to Planning and Zoning Director BJ Grieve. Upon hearing about the weddings, Flathead County informed the Myerses that the commercial events were illegal and they had to stop and apply for a conditional use permit. Because the Myerses had a month to comply with the request, they were able to hold a few more weddings that had already been planned.

“Honestly, and this may sound dumb, but we had no idea we had to get a permit to host a wedding,” Alana said. “It never occurred to us.”

Last week, the Myerses applied for high-impact recreational facility permit, which is listed under the conditional uses of a SAG-5 property. The Planning and Zoning office is now reviewing the application. On Oct. 31 the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee will review the permit and on Nov. 5 the Flathead County Board of Adjustment will do the same.

“Ultimately, the Board of Adjustment will hear both sides and will make a call as to if it fits the current zoning regulations,” Grieve said. “Even though one side may not be happy with the outcome, we hope in the end everyone thinks it’s a fair process.”

DeMars said he plans on attending the upcoming meetings where he will speak out against the permit.

“This isn’t a personal vendetta or anything, it’s just a concern for our quality of life,” he said. “I live a quiet life and I want to get back to that.”

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