Outdoor weddings still are prohibited at Matt and Whitney Baker's Bend in the River event center on Harrington Road in West Richland.
Judge Vic VanderSchoor decided Thursday in Benton County Superior Court to uphold the county's Board of Adjustments decision eight months ago not to grant a special use permit to the Bakers.
The board's unanimous decision in March to deny the permit for a special events center at 113618 N. Harrington Road came after 23 people, most ofthem neighbors, testified against the proposal.
Attorney John Ziobro of Kennewick argued at Thursday's hearing that his clients should have been given the permit because zoning in the area allows other uses that would create similar conditions involving noise, traffic and public safety access.
"The Board of Adjustments was concerned about one way in and one way out, but that is not the criteria," Ziobro said, noting that Harrington being a dead-end private road was not the right issue.
"There is no evidence the Bakers' impacts (from conducting outdoor weddings and receptions) are greater than (other uses) that are allowed," he said.
Ziobro claimed the county failed to make the appropriate findings comparing impacts of the wedding facility to other uses such as churches, schools, museums and golf courses, all of which would be allowed by the zoning.
"The county doesn't have evidence, just assertions. People who live on Harrington Road will say anything to have this permit denied," Ziobro said in calling for a reversal of the board's decision.
Ryan Brown, the county's attorney, said the Bakers' wedding center, if allowed, would double the amount of traffic on the private road with up to 200 guests attending events on Fridays and Saturdays.
Brown said neighbors already have experienced issues because the Bakers were doing events at their facility without a county permit. Neighbors have found beer cans on their land and had strangers coming to their doors looking for the wedding, he said.
Noise, traffic issues and the concern of potential wildfires prompted neighbors' concerns, Brown said.
Thirty people, many Harrington Road residents, attended Thursday's hearing.
Calling the case a "very contested and hot issue," VanderSchoor said the county code is not specific about who should provide evidence comparing impacts of a proposed activity to that of allowed activities.
"It's not clear who should present evidence to make comparisons ... (but) I will affirm the decision (of the county)," he said.
Matt Baker testified before the board in February that he began holding events during 2010, not knowing he needed a county permit. There were 13 weekend weddings at Bend in the River before the county forced the Bakers to stop.
Ziobro told the Herald they are considering whether to appeal or to reapply and address the issue of other allowed activities in the same area.