Chapel Hill News

Orange County approves plans for Barn of Chapel Hill farm, venue

The Barn of Chapel Hill’s owners have the necessary permits to start building their southwestern Orange County farm and events center.

Chatham County resident Kara Brewer could host up to 250 guests for weddings, parties and weekday conferences on 22 acres at Morrow Mill and Millikan roads in Bingham Township. The plan generated strong opposition last fall when Brewer voluntarily applied to the Board of Adjustment for a permit.

More signs were posted along roads leading to the site last week, by neighbors worried how more people, cars, lights and noise could affect their wells and the quiet, rural environment. The potential for drunk drivers also has them worried about the safety of children playing outside and farm equipment traveling through the area, they said.

Brewer said the plan is to end events by 11 p.m. and not allow fireworks or amplified outdoor music. Licensed and insured caterers and bartenders will serve guests, she said.

Although the Board of Adjustment rejected the project, state law exempts “bona fide” farms from local zoning rules, which allowed Brewer to resubmit the plans in January for a county staff review. The staff’s approval hinged on whether the land, which was not being actively farmed and didn’t have a barn or other farm structure on it, qualified as a bona fide farm.

State law defines a bona fide farm as producing crops, livestock or other agricultural goods. Brewer argued they were building a family farm to raise flowers and chestnuts, in addition to offering space for weddings and other events.

She also met two requirements for proving farm status: having a U.S. Department of Agriculture farm number and a forestry management plan.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners did not weigh in on the Barn of Chapel Hill decision, but it has asked the legislature to clarify state rules for farm land. The law should be more clear that crop and livestock production are primary uses, and marketing and agritourism are secondary uses, the request states, and farms used only for marketing and agritourism should not be exempt from local zoning rules.

“Local governments are seeing an increasing number of properties that, although they meet one or more criteria for exemption, such as having a federal farm identification number, are not used for the production of crops or livestock,” the commissioners said.

The Brewer family has been active at the farm this spring, setting out 1,000 flower seedlings, including sunflowers, celosia and zinnias, working with a beekeeper to establish hives for honey production, and planting 40 chestnut saplings – the first phase of an orchard.

“In addition to selling the nuts and offering chestnut roastings, we also plan to to produce chestnut flour,” Brewer said, “which can be used in many ways and has the added benefit of being gluten-free.”

The next step, since getting septic, well and building permits, is clearing and grading land for the 4,200-square-foot barn and a 125-space parking lot.

The 19th-century barn’s timber frame has been deconstructed and will be relocated from Marcy, New York, to the site in the next few months, Brewer said. Construction and renovations could be finished by fall, in time for another round of seed starting, she said.

“We continue to work toward incorporating agritourism within our farm operations, such as U-pick flower visits, farm-to-fork dinners, weddings and educational tours for students,” Brewer said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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