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Event barn fuss triggers broad review

An event barn on N.C. 191 triggered a broader review of nonresidential uses in residential zones. An event barn on N.C. 191 triggered a broader review of nonresidential uses in residential zones.

The Henderson County Planning Board is plunging into a broad review of potentially disruptive land uses in residential zones after neighbors raised concerns about an event barn in an R-2 zone.


After 30 residents spoke against the event space during a meeting on May 1, the Board of Commissioners ordered the Planning Board to review whether that use ought to be allowed in an R-2 zone. The Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a permit in October 2015 to Bill and Tamra Crane for an event barn on Bradley Road across from Rugby Middle School. Jane and Stan Shelley, the Cranes’ closest neighbors, lost appeals to the Henderson County Superior Court and the N.C. Court of Appeals and are taking the fight to the Board of Commissioners. They’ee going back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, seeking revocation of the special-use permit.
Although commissioners specifically asked for a review about the so-called small place of assembly, Planning Board members pointed out that there are dozens of non-residential uses either allowed by right or with the blessing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Those uses include assisted living, hospice facility, a boarding house, windmill turbine, miniature golf, RV park, police station, a wastewater treatment.
“I can understand the neighbors’ concerns. I understood them at the time,” said Hunter Marks, who was on the Zoning Board of Adjustment when it issued the permit and now serves on the Planning Board. “But the ordinance the way it’s written allowed this with some leeway.
“My only thought is if we’re going to consider changes for this we should look at some of these other things, too. Some of these other things would have the same impact if not greater impact than a small place of gathering. There were some conditions put on and one of the conditions was 150 people max.” The zoning code defines a “small place of assembly” as up to 499 people.
Planning Board members disagreed on how much the county ought to dial back nonresidential uses.
“You don’t want to restrict somebody’s property rights but at the same time I think you’ve got to be cognizant of the potential harm it could cause to adjacent property owners in affecting their property values,” said Chairman Steve Dozier said.
But board member Rick Livingston strongly defended the Cranes and their right to use the property within what the code permits.
The controversy is “another classic example where one tiny little bit of common sense would have prevented this whole deal,” he said. “Where are we going to draw the line as far as telling them what they can and can’t do with their property. Had it been handled correctly from the get-go we wouldn’t even be discussing this.”
Livingston said neighbors talking to neighbors may have resolved things early on.
“If those folks that caused all the stink and hoopla would have sat down with the Cranes and expressed their concerns and in turn allowed the Cranes to explain what they’re doing and if they had been open and transparent about it I don’t think any of this would ever have been an issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s gonna hurt anything out there. My question is where do you draw the line? Where does local, state and federal government stop telling property owners what they can and can’t do? I understand zoning and the need to protect property but also I believe we need to use some common sense when we implement and develop these policies.”

The Planning Board continued to discuss the event space and the need to evaluate other land uses allowed in the code. Then it heard from produce farmer Danny McConnell, who sells strawberries and ice cream and hosts large groups at his Dana farm.
“If you limit it to 150 people, these large events are going to go somewhere else,” he said. “Many of our agriculture-related events draw several hundred people.”
Dozier appointed a committee of himself and Livingston along with planning staff to review the code.
Instead of looking at just gathering places, the committee will take a broader look. The zoning code lists some 25 nonresidential uses allowed by special use permit in R-1 and R-2 zones. The committee’s goal is to review the uses “to determine whether or not it makes sense” to allow them in residential zones, Dozier said.
Livingston thinks the zoning code has safeguards in place that in many cases are adequate.
“That’s the purpose of the Zoning Board of Adjustment,” he said. “When someone applies for a special use permit there is a process by which it should be determined whether that is an acceptable project within the community. We already have that in place. Why reinvent the wheel?”
But he added that he’s willing to review all the uses allowed in residential zones and evaluate their impact.
“I’m not at all opposed to looking at the uses and maybe some need to be tightened up,” he said.