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Appeals court upholds event barn on N.C. 191

A state appeals court upheld a county zoning decision to allow an event venue at Tall Oaks farm on N.C. 191 at Bradley Road. A state appeals court upheld a county zoning decision to allow an event venue at Tall Oaks farm on N.C. 191 at Bradley Road.

The fight may not over yet even though a North Carolina appeals court has upheld a Henderson County Zoning Board of Adjustment decision that granted a permit for couple to rent their residential-zoned property for weddings, receptions, birthday parties and other gatherings.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment in October 2015 granted an application from William and Tamra Crane to use a 3,000-square-foot barn for the social events for up to 150 people. The events would be mostly on weekends, the Cranes said, and would go no later than 10 p.m. The property is on N.C. 191 across from Rugby Middle School and between the Historic Johnson Farm and West Henderson High School.
Elizabeth and Stan Shelley and other neighbors opposed the commercialization of property in the neighborhood.
The Shelleys appealed the Zoning Board of Adjustment decision to the Henderson County Superior Court, which upheld the zoning board decision. They then took the case to the N.C. Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the county and the Cranes on Dec. 20.
Neighbors raised concerns about parking lot lighting and traffic on Bradley and Country roads and said that the use of alcohol and live music, both permitted uses at the event space, would devalue their property and turn off buyers.
While he has no plans to appeal the appellate decision, Shelley said the effort to stop the commercial use in a residential area may not be over.
“There’s an awful lot of neighbors getting very riled about it,” he said. “We did a sound test and found that 120 homes are going to be affected by it. Real estate law says if you live within hearing distance of anything like that then if you sell your house you have to disclose that. There’s definitely a lot of neighbors moving to try to do something to stop it.”
Shelley blames Henderson County as much as he does the applicants.
“There’s been so many things thrown on the table but I better not say because some might happen and some might not happen,” he said. “But somehow Henderson County is going to hear from the neighbors and be asked to do something about this thing. It’s almost unbelievable how this was handled. … So far it has cost me $24,000 and I totally 100 percent abided by the ordinance of Henderson County. The same cannot be said of Henderson County.”

‘In harmony’ with current use

Although appraiser Mark White, appearing for the opponents, testified that “an event venue in the neighborhood would have a significant negative impact on property values” and would make it harder to sell their homes, he presented no data “on the actual effect on property values,” the appeals court said, quoting the Cranes’ case.
“Our barn will be in harmony with the surrounding area due to the current use of our property,” the Cranes said in their original permit application.
There’s plenty of other public activity, they noted, including events at the Historic Johnson Farm next door and daytime school traffic and nighttime games at Rugby Middle School and West Henderson High School.
The zoning board found that the project would not endanger public health or safety nor lower property values because the area is already home to Rugby Middle School, West Henderson High School and Johnson Farm. The zoning board’s approval of the application also required a 50-foot setback from the Cranes’ property line where no parking is allowed and a landscaping or fence buffer around parking. The permit also bars events between 10 at night and 10 in the morning and caps attendance at 150 people.

‘Generalized fears highly speculative’

“It’s not going to just be weddings,” said Tamra Crane. “You could have a birthday party or an office party. There’s just no place to have something like that. It’s not going to create a huge amount of traffic. They talked about all the school traffic. The times we’re going to having things are not going to be school hours.”
Arguing for the Shelleys, attorneys said that the zoning board’s decision was unsupported by evidence presented at the hearing, inconsistent with procedures under the law and arbitrary and capricious. The plaintiffs argued that the Cranes offered no evidence to the zoning board “other than they do not feel like there will be a problem with these issues” raised by opponents.
The appeals court ruled that the blessing of the county’s Technical Review Committee and testimony by Zoning Administrator Toby Linville constituted “competent, material and substantial evidence” required for issuing a special use permit. Examining whether the opponents offered competent, material and substantial evidence against the permit, the judges said neighbors’ comments “consisted entirely of speculative opinions, unsupported by any documentary or testimonial evidence. … The expression of generalized fears from surrounding property owners is incompetent as opinion testimony and highly speculative in nature.”
The three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously that both the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Superior Court Judge Richard L. Doughton, who is from Sparta, had followed the county ordinance and state law in their decisions. Christopher S. Stepp represented the Cranes. B.B. “Buddy” Massagee III, Sharon Alexander and Sarah Renee Massagee represented the Shelleys.
Crane and said she and her husband, a building contractor, were surprised when their neighbors sued to overturn the permit. The Cranes didn’t bother to hire a lawyer when they appeared before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. When they were named as a respondent, along with Henderson County, in the Shelleys’ appeal, they hired Stepp.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it nice,” Crane said of the event space. “It’s going to be a 3.500-square-foot rustic barn. It’s going to be very tasteful. We’re putting up a privacy fence and hopefully that will help. We’re planting trees. We’re just doing everything we can to be good neighbors because we live here, too.”
The couple has received a building permit and expects to start construction soon.
“Our youngest son is getting married on Oct. 15 so our goal is to get it ready for that,” Crane said.