By CRISTINA JANNEY
A local family hopes to open a new event center near the intersection of U.S. Highway 183 and Buckeye Road in Ellis County.
Leanne and Jayme Zimmerman have a applied for a conditional-use permit for a wedding event venue that would be built on land that is currently used for agriculture.
The public hearing on the permit was Wednesday night at the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission meeting.
The site is 6 miles north of Hays and 0.2 miles east of U.S. 183 on Buckeye Road.
The Buckeye Barn would have a capacity of up to 350 people, have a kitchen, restrooms, beverage area, dining area, private bridal suite parking and a covered area to stage outdoor weddings or events.
"We are basically putting up something similar to the Schenk Building," Leanne Zimmerman, who will manage the facility, said. "We want something affordable for the citizens of Hays."
The gathering space will be 60 by 120 feet.The building will be wheelchair accessible.
The structure would be a 110-by-120-foot metal building that sits on about four acres of land. Three acres would be dedicated for onsite parking.
Water will be provided by the rural water district. Zimmerman said she did not plan to install a sprinkler system in the building, as she was informed by her insurance agent that she was not required to do so.
Zimmerman said the site was chosen so the entrance/exit for the facility could be on Buckeye Road. The number of entrances/exits will be determined by the county road department and the Kansas Department of Transportation because of the center's proximity to U.S. 183.
The landscaping will be cultivated with the natural grass that is already present in the area.
Several local residents spoke in opposition to the proposed event center on Thursday night.
Dustin Shubert, who lives at 1660 Buckeye Road near the proposed center, said the residents of Buckeye Township do not want an event center at that location.
"We do not want the extra traffic. We do not want the extra people in the area," he said. "We feel a little bit out of sight, out of mind out there. We built out there because we wanted to be away from things like this."
He continued, "You bring a lot of extra people into the area that we're not familiar with and then we feel our security is at risk."
Shubert said if the center is built, he would be concerned about leaving property, such as campers or trailers, outside because of the increase in traffic in the area.
"I don't like the location they chose," he said. "I think that there are better locations they could chose from, and I don't think it's right for the Buckeye Township area."
Jason Williams, 1682 Buckeye Road, also was opposed to the event center.
"The whole reason we moved out there — it's a quiet place. We got good neighbors. We wanted to be in our own nice little community. We all have young kids out there, and you have to worry about increased traffic with young kids."
Allen Schmidt, Buckeye Township treasurer, expressed several concerns about the proposed event center.
The former Buckeye school (Buckeye Hall) has been used as a gathering place since it closed as a school. The location still has swings and a merry-go-round.
Schmidt said he was concerned about liability issues if children attending a wedding at the event center would play on the Buckeye Hall equipment and be hurt.
Zimmerman said children attending events at the Buckeye Barn using the play equipment at the hall is unlikely considering the event center will be about 2,000 feet from Buckeye Hall and the children would have to cross cultivated ground to get there.
Schmidt also expressed concern about potential vandalism at Buckeye Hall because of the increased traffic. He asked the Zimmermans provide internet service and security cameras for the Buckeye Hall.
Zimmerman said she did not believe there would be any problems with vandalism at the hall. She said the event center will have internet access, but the township would be responsible for paying for internet and security cameras if they wanted them installed at Buckeye Hall.
A representative of the Hilton Garden Inn in Hays, which also has an event center, asked the commission if any public funding is going to be used for the Buckeye Barn. Zimmerman said the project will be completely privately funded.
The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the conditional-use permit to the Ellis County Commission. The county commission will consider the permit in February after a protest period.