Could Your Wedding Venue Get Shut Down? What every wedding venue should know before they start booking clients, touring couples or hosting events.

Could Your Wedding Venue Get Shut Down? MAYBE? Sorry folks, that is as clear an answer as I could provide. Some venues are located in counties that will not hesitate to take swift action when they find a venue operating without the proper permits and some counties can take years to enforce the zoning requirements. While other counties can take years to enforce their policies. Wedding venue owners do not have a “how to” guide for starting up their business the right way. Many times the venue gets bad advice or misinformation as they start up. Most venue owners do their best to make sure they have contacted the county they live in for information on what is legally required to host weddings. But our counties do not know much about the wedding industry, and just because someone works at the zoning office, it does not mean they are familiar with all the codes and laws. So, when you walk in the county office, the person you speak to may also be the source of misinformation or confusion. This can put a start up business in a bind later that could cost them a small fortune as they try to correct the issues on an inconvenient deadline. When a wedding venue gets shut down or does not have county support, this is disastrous for the wedding industry. We need successful wedding venues open, operational and booking weddings. The average wedding venue in our region books about 40 weddings each year. It often takes about 2.5 years of hard work, enticing pricing, smart marketing and great management for a venue to get to these numbers. Once a venue is booking weddings they are creating wedding industry jobs. On average about 10 vendors will provide services to support a wedding. A successful wedding venue could create 400 or more wedding industry jobs each year! It is imperative to support our Fair Practices wedding venues because we simply can’t sustain the losses our wedding industry suffers if we lose even one successful venue.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about local venues operating outside of safety and zoning requirements and getting shut down, leaving couples scrambling at the last minute to find a new venue. I decided to investigate this on my own by calling some of the Virginia & Maryland counties to find out more about zoning codes & requirements. I called 8 counties the first day, no one I spoke to was in charge or able to answer direct questions. I had to leave messages and wait. After a week of waiting I called back to the zoning offices and asked again to speak with someone who could answer questions about zoning and permits for wedding venues. This time I was able to speak with two very helpful people at two different counties. What I learned from the initial calls was that none of the counties have a list of local wedding or event venues that are 100% compliant with zoning and occupancy requirements. So, there is no list that exists through our local counties showing which venues have contacted them, gone through the right process for their zoning and occupancy (safety!!). This list would be quite helpful don’t you think? Anyway, you can call them and ask them about a specific venue and they will look up that venue and eventually call you back to let you know if that venue has a file with them and if they have records of current zoning compliance. But you must ask them the right questions about the venue, they are not likely to volunteer information. Brides and grooms, if you find a venue you love you are usually feeling the pressure to book that venue on that special date you selected, before anyone else takes that date. The smart thing to do is to call the county and ask about the venue first but it could take days or weeks to hear back. Not very efficient or practical.
While our counties may not be experts on the wedding industry and some counties may have slow reaction times, it is a possibility that your venue could get shut down. This is not a risk anyone should take, especially when there are so many wedding venues that are 100% compliant, have the required safety inspections, occupancy permits, etc…  Most of the time it’s a neighbor who has reported the venue to the county in the first place and they are probably keeping an eye on the venue. They are watching and reporting back to the county! Find reputable venues on our venue gallery or contact didi@vawenetwork.com.  Venue owners we would love to hear from you if you are struggling to get your venue registered properly with the county please share your story. If you have successfully gone through the process please let us know, we would love to share your experience to help other venue owners and couples.
The Glasgow Farm is a gorgeous barn wedding venue located in Stafford County, Virginia. Before the venue was even open, eager couples were contacting the owners wanting to have their wedding at Glasgow Farm. I live near the farm and every weekend I would drive by to see gorgeous celebrations being set up. One day last fall as their wedding season was winding down, they received a shocking notice from the county. Sharon Glasgow shares her experience below, providing lots of details and a rare look and what a venue actually encountered during this process and how they made it through the process of getting their venue compliant.
“This all started when we went to the county and asked for a permit to put a Glasgow Farm sign on our property. They then said, “Do you have an assembly use permit?” We said, “No, we don’t know what that is?” That’s where the work began! Here are a FEW things we had to do that you can share.”
  1. Our venue was required to have an assembly use permit. Our farm is zoned A-1, we thought that meant we could have weddings here.  That is NOT the case. Assembly use is- commercial use. Everywhere public uses has to be commercial approved.
  2. We were sent to county zoning department (we’re in Stafford Co). The zoning department had a public hearing about our venue. Neighbors were invited and  could approve or disapprove. They approved and the work began.
  3. Once approved we were given a serious timeline to become commercial. EVERY part of our property was under strict scrutiny.
  4. We were required to have a VDOT approved driveway- Clear sight driveway of 500 ft in both directions. Gravel or paved 20 feet wide entrance and possibly a turn lane.
  5. Septic approved for number of guests the zoning board allowed us. we can’t share septic with our existing house. Our Septic is huge and they won’t let us share it.
  6. Permits pulled and passed for electric, commercial wiring is required. Master electrician must  draw up plans and perform the work. We had to replace ALL of our new wiring and all fixtures.
  7. Structural engineer and architect must draw up plans for safety of structure, fire exit escapes, etc. A contractor is not allowed to draw up plans. THIS WAS HUGE. Our stairs were 1/8 of an inch from being code compliant and we had to rebuild them. We had to pour a new foundation under the barn…
  8. We had to put panic hardware on doors, exit signs, emergency lights inside and outside the building
  9. Fire Marshall inspected our site and gave  requirements for safety. Fire extinguishers maintained and inspected yearly, no extension cords anywhere, correct number of exit doors out the building. Doors push out, not in.
  10. Occupancy permit and occupancy load posted for all to see
  11. Every building handicap accessible with ADA railings, etc
  12. Correct number of restrooms per number of guests allowed  based on zoning committee.
  13. Ample parking for the number of guests you’re allowed to have, handicap parking signs are required
“This was a HUGE endeavor. It was an impossible mountain for us to move, but God provided, He moved it and we are now approved and having weddings EVERY weekend!”
Sharon Glasgow
Photo Credit, Ben & Sophia Photography, http://benandsophia.com