A401 REFLECTED CEILING PLAN
A403 ADD ALTERNATE REFLECTED CEILING PLANS
S501 FOUNDATION DETAILS
E3 ELECTRICAL LIGHTING PLAN MEZZANINE LEVEL
E4 ELECTRICAL POWER PLAN FIRST LEVEL
E5 ELECTRICAL POWER PLAN MEZZANINE LEVEL
E6 ELECTRICAL PLAN UPPER LEVEL
for Barn of Chapel Hill
CURRENT PROPERTY STATUS:
Property: 22 undeveloped, wooded acres
Location: Morrow Mill Road, Orange County, NC
Owner's place of residence: Chatham County, NC
Owner: Southeast Property Group LLC
Crop production & livestock: 0
Surface water & wells: 0
Farm income & revenue: Unknown
PROPOSED EVENT CENTER:
Cost of building construction: $735,000 (excluding land cost)
Barn elements: bride's room, audio room, portable stage, balcony, food prep area, veranda
Request for county Special Use Permit: Denied
Request for "agritourism" zoning exemption: Pending
Board denies Special Use Permit
Orange County, NC, January 23, 2016--Last November, the Orange County Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to deny a Special Use Permit to Kara Brewer of Southeast Property Group LLC for a proposed event center in rural Orange County. Brewer, who lives in Chatham County, applied for the permit to build the “Barn of Chapel Hill” on an undeveloped, wooded 22-acre property acquired by Southeast Property Group the previous spring. At the hearing, Brewer failed to prove her project would meet three required standards: to maintain or promote public health, safety and welfare; to maintain or enhance the value of contiguous property; and to be in harmony with the area around it.
Request for agritourism exemption
After the Board of Adjustment rejected the event center plans, Brewer and her attorney sent repeated requests to Orange County planners for an “agritourism zoning exemption letter” to clarify the issue for her lender. Responding to requests from Brewer and her attorney, county planning staff did not grant Brewer an exemption for the event center, but did note that the bona fide farm exemption does not apply to “the use of farm property for non farm purposes.” Agritourism is intended to benefit farmers, supplementing the revenue of established farms, not to build a commercial enterprise on undeveloped property.
The undeveloped, wooded property acquired by Southeast Property Group has no livestock, crop yields or income from production, making the request highly unusual where there is no established agricultural activity for visitors to experience on the land. According to an article by Katie Jansen in today’s Herald Sun, “Although nothing is planted on the land yet, ‘we are a working farm,’ Brewer said of her farm plans.”
Brewer received a USDA Farm Service Agency farm number for the property in last May, four months before the FSA put stricter guidelines into place requiring proof of farm income and production from landowners seeking FSA numbers. Under North Carolina laws enacted in 2011 and 2013, an FSA farm number is one of five ways to demonstrate “bona fide farm” status. Presenting her plan last summer, Brewer told neighbors and county planners that with the property's farm number, her proposed event center could be permitted as an agritourism business.
In early January, Brewer’s contractor applied for a county building permit to construct a $735,000 “Farm event venue,” without having received a Special Use Permit or an exemption for the proposed project. The architectural plans call for a bride’s room, balcony, portable stage, audio room, food prep area, mezzanine, veranda, and a lighting schedule including fourteen 72-inch chandeliers valued at up to $3850 per fixture. Speaking to Herald Sun reporter Katie Jansen, “[Brewer] said the agritourism component of the farm is important to make the farm more profitable,” but the building’s connection to agricultural activities is unclear. While the interior design proposes using old barn wood from New York, the exterior design borrows heavily from a new event center built in Virginia in 2011.
Farmers oppose plans for “barn”
Southeast Property Group’s 22-acre parcel runs along Morrow Mill and Millikan Roads, quiet country lanes in the Haw River watershed lined with grazing cattle, horses, donkeys, and historic rural residences. Local farmers and residents first heard of Southeast Property Group and Brewer’s proposal last August when they received certified letters announcing an informational meeting and notifying them of the right to oppose the Special Use Permit application. Over 100 farmers and community members turned out at the county hearing in November 2015 to oppose Brewer’s “Barn of Chapel Hill” plans and support neighbors, who made a compelling case for protecting livestock, farm operations and surrounding properties from impacts of the proposed project.
Agricultural community at risk
Brewer’s business, potentially using an exemption meant to help farmers, would have significant adverse impacts on surrounding farm properties and could pave the way for future encroachments into the rural county. Morrow Mill and Millikan Roads see very few cars. The area is a destination on weekends for bicyclists and a haven for extended families spreading across properties dating back to pre-revolutionary land grants from the King of England. Reviewing evidence presented by experts and longtime landowners at the November hearing, Board of Adjustment member Barry Katz described the quiet rural community as “extraordinary.”
Community members are firmly committed to keeping this corner of Orange County rural and peaceful for generations to come. For centuries, local families have run dairies, raised cattle and horses and worked the land, even after losing valued croplands three decades ago to OWASA for Cane Creek Reservoir, and despite recent efforts to locate industrial uses in their midst. For more than two decades, southwest Orange County residents have successfully protected farmland, woodlands and watershed land, effectively stopping large proposed projects including a landfill, UNC airport, waste transfer station, and expanded UNC animal research campus.
To date Orange County staff has not determined whether Brewer’s proposed “Barn of Chapel Hill” event center building will receive a building permit or be exempted from local zoning.
Stay tuned for updated information on the proposed project.