King George County officials have sent the issue of whether weddings are allowed at the Estate at White Hall Vineyard to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation.
The planners could hold a public hearing on the matter as early as Oct. 8, if all the paperwork is in place, said Brad Hudson, King George’s director of Community Development.
Then, planners would forward their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which also would hold a public hearing before deciding if the facility needs a special exception.
County staff has maintained such an exception is needed while the lawyer of White Hall owners Joel and Bethany Cassell says otherwise. Attorney Clark Leming of Stafford County said weddings are considered “agritourism activities,” and as such, are “exempt under state law and are not regulated under the county’s zoning ordinance,” according to an appeal he filed.
Supervisors first heard about the matter in early August, and each member expressed outrage about the sequence of events as shared by Heather Hall, King George’s zoning administrator.
She said the county first sent the Cassells a notice of violation in July 2018, after officials heard complaints from neighbors about weddings at the rural facility. The Estate at White Hall is accessible from Lambs Creek Church Road, off State Route 3, and features a brick estate house, turn-of-the-century “cathedral” barn and 1850s stable chapel, as well as facilities for wine tasting.
The Cassells ignored the first notice, then agreed to meet after a second notice of violation was sent, Hall said. She told the supervisors that Joel Cassell said he’d stop holding weddings and apply for the necessary paperwork.
“Estate at White Hall continued to hold wedding events the remainder of 2018 and all of 2019, even after being advised numerous times that it was not permitted,” Hall said.
Supervisor John Jenkins Jr. echoed concerns from fellow board members, who wondered what was the point of having county regulations if residents were going to ignore them.
“I’m a pretty fair guy, but I think that’s insane,” Jenkins said.
Leming later painted a different picture to The Free Lance–Star of what transpired. He said the county’s former director of community development told the Cassells in 2016 that an exception wasn’t needed at all. And, that when Joel Cassell told Heather Hall he’d stop holding weddings, he meant after he fulfilled his “contractual obligation” to brides and grooms whose weddings already were scheduled.
The case is marked by differing opinions—and not just over the zoning designation. On White Hall’s Facebook page, brides rave about the breathtaking beauty of the estate which they say is matched only by the friendliness of the owners.
Yet, neighbor Justin Grimes said he’s one of many nearby residents whose peace and quiet have been disrupted by the noise and traffic generated by wedding crowds.
Phone calls to The Free Lance–Star after the August story covered a similar range. One bride said she wished she’d known the county had issued a cease and desist order against the Cassells because she probably would have changed venues—and avoided all the stress of having her wedding there.
Others, who’ve worked at the property, described the wonderful offerings at Estate Hall and insisted the neighbors were the ones causing the problems, not the Cassells.