By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
The Ellis County Commission sided with a group of residents and blocked a proposed event center and wedding venue north of Hays on Monday.
The commission’s vote to deny a conditional use permit for an event center blocks the Zimmerman trust from using a 4-acre portion of their land to build and operate the Buckeye Barn.
The proposed wedding and event center received unanimous support from the Planning and Zoning Commission at their meeting in January, and would have been located 6 miles north of Hays and just east of U.S. 183 on Buckeye Road.
Only landowners within 1,000 feet of the location had to be notified of the CUP and could file a formal protest. Only one protest was filed and that came from a landowner with farm ground, but not a residence, in the area.
More than 20 additional signatures were submitted as protesting the CUP — none of those individuals live within the 1,000 feet protest area and some live several miles from the location of the proposed event center.
Two individuals elected to speak in opposition of the CUP at Monday’s meeting. One of them one was Sara Shubert. She and her husband, Dustin, live more than a half-mile from the proposed event center location.
Shubert said she went door-to-door in the area collecting the more than 20 signatures presented to the commission in opposition of the Buckeye Barn.
Shubert and Sue McCrae-Bickel, whose father owns farm ground in the area and submitted the only protest petition from someone who owns property within the 1,000 feet protest area, presented their concerns to the commission Monday.
Among the issues they raised before the commission were the possibility of increased impaired drivers and extra traffic in the area, the increased fire risk due to discarded cigarettes, the building’s lack of a fire suppression system and the effect it would have on the water supply. They also claimed there are already enough event centers in Ellis County.
Shubert told the commission in a written statement she read at Monday’s meeting, “This is clearly not welcome in the Buckeye Township.”
The discussion went on for more than an hour with Commissioners Butch Schlyer, Dean Haselhorst and Neal Younger bringing forth many of the same concerns the protesters did.
Leanne Zimmerman and her husband, Jayme, attempted to address some of the concerns. She told the commission that the application for rural water does not make a distinction between residential use and commercial use. The Trego Rural Water District had raised concerns about the amount of water used by the event center.
Zimmerman said after talking with the state fire marshal’s office they could install a holding tank or pound that would not affect the water pressure in the area and would also help with fire suppression.
She added that they do not believe there would be a wedding venue like the one they are proposing within several miles and that she already people reach out about booking the venue, even though she doesn’t even have a building up yet. She also said there are different issues with event centers in the county and the ones McCrae-Bickel listed.
Younger asked Zimmerman if they had considered moving the event center a half-mile to a mile north on their land.
Zimmerman said they would be open to that and asked members of the audience, against the vocal opposition of the commission, if they would be willing to allow the event center to move forward in a new location.
None of the more than a dozen people in the audience signaled they would OK that proposal.
Zimmerman said she believes those in opposition believe, “We don’t want you to do this, period.”
Younger called the disagreement “not acceptable” that the two sides should get along and asked Zimmerman why she didn’t reach out to the individuals in the area.
Zimmerman said she contacted the individuals she was required to by the permitting process. She added that she was not approached by any of those who submitted the protest petitions and that if she needed signatures of supporters outside the 1,000 feet area she would have collected those.
“I just want the same chance that we have at the (county-owned) Shenk Building, that is out there in the country,” Zimmerman said. “The commissioners are the ones that rule over that (and) as an individual I want that same chance in the county. To have a beautiful place to have weddings.”
Commissioner Butch Schlyer, said, “I’m going to speak on behalf of the protesters.”
He said it’s not a building issues and it’s not a safety issue. Citing the World Health Organization’s definition, he called it a “nuisance.”
“This kind of business, as perceived by the homeowners in the area, believe this to be a potential nuisance,” Schlyer said. “It will interfere with their comfort and repose.”
Because the commission voted to disapprove the CUP the Zimmerman’s will have to wait a year to re-file for the permit in the same location. If they chose to select a different location or submit the same application, they will still have to start the process from the beginning.