A county board has stopped construction on the Barn of Chapel Hill in western Orange County, reversing an earlier decision that the planned events center does not need a zoning permit.
The Board of Adjustment’s decision Monday night requires county planner Michael Harvey to reconsider whether the barn is a commercial events center or a “bona fide” farm.
State law exempts “bona fide” farms that produce crops, livestock or other agricultural goods from local zoning rules. Barn of Chapel Hill owner Kara Brewer met two requirements for proving farm status: having a U.S. Department of Agriculture farm number and a forestry management plan.
Harvey said he will make his decision after consulting with the county attorney.
Neighbors have been fighting for a year to stop the project, which they fear will bring traffic, lights, litter and noise to the corner of Morrow Mill and Millikan roads. The 22-acre project – a 4,200-square-foot barn and 125-space parking lot – could host up to 250 guests for weddings, parties and weekday conferences.
The Board of Adjustment rejected Brewer’s special-use permit application for a “farm event building” last November, after a contentious public hearing. Brewer resubmitted the same plan in January for a county staff review.
She resubmitted the building permit application in March, describing the project as a “barn for agricultural use.” County staff approved the application, saying that the county couldn’t regulate the project’s zoning, because it met “bona fide” farm requirements.
Neighbors appealed that decision, arguing that planning staff erred in accepting two separate building permit applications after the Board of Adjustment denied the special-use permit and in deciding that the project did not have to meet local zoning.
Their attorney, LeAnn Nease Brown, argued that state law prohibiting zoning regulation of bona fide farms does not apply to nonfarm uses. Her appeal also cites an affidavit that Brewer submitted in March in which she acknowledges that “non-farm uses are not exempt and I am subject to future zoning enforcement for any non-farm use that does not comply with the Orange County Unified Development Ordinance.”
The Orange County Board of Commissioners has asked the legislature to clarify state rules for farm land when it returns to Raleigh next year.
“I think that the bone of contention for neighbors is that, first of all, this is not a farm,” Harvey said. “The next bone of contention is even if it is a farm, this is a non-farm use and it actually dwarfs the farm.”
Brewer added beehives, flowers and chestnut trees over the summer. The land has been cleared and the frame of a 19th-century barn that was relocated from Marcy, New York, is up. Brewer previously said the plan is to sell the honey, mill the chestnuts into flour, and sell the flowers to markets and for weddings.
It’s ironic that the community has criticized the plan, because they say Brewer is not a real farmer, her attorney Andy Petesch said.
“The ability to complete the barn and start the production of flowers and the moving and processing of chestnuts, all those things that are traditional farming activities, that’s being prevented now,” Petesch said.