The Hamilton County Commission repealed a special events permit for a wedding venue in McDonald after neighbors raised concerns about noise, traffic and setback requirements.
The commission was slated to vote Wednesday to clarify language of a resolution passed in September for The Barn at Beechtree Farm, a venue located on the back portion of a private drive in McDonald, which was permitted to host paid events in September, despite neighbor concerns.
Last week, neighbors opposed to the venue, which hosted 16 weddings this year, used the scheduled vote as an opportunity to readdress concerns they have about the venue's permit, which was recommended for denial by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency before the commission gave it the all-clear earlier this fall.
Now, the actual venue structure, a large enclosed barn at the back of Beechtree Drive built in 2018, has been deemed insufficient for paid or public events due to failure to meet setback requirements.
Neighbors also argued that since the board of zoning appeals denied the venue's request for a variance in October, the venue failed to meet the requirements of the commission's resolution, which states their approval is "subject to receiving variance from the Hamilton County Board of Zoning Appeals for setbacks."
Still, some commissioners felt they should uphold the events permit.
"There's really nothing wrong with it, there just needs to be clarity on the way the resolution was worded," District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston said last week. "It was pretty much just a typo, but we always do permits by the address."
On Beechtree Drive there are three houses: the residence of the venue owners, which sits on the dead end to the left of the venue along with a secondary building; a neighbor's home, which is located about 300 feet to the right of the venue; and the home of another neighbor, which is about 1,000 feet from the venue at the intersection of Beechtree Drive and McDonald Road, the only outlet to the private drive.
The barn was built in 2017 for a family wedding, according to owner Debbie Stafford, who owned and operated the barn with her late husband, Tim Stafford.
"At that time, we didn't know if we would run it as a business or if people would even be interested in something like that. But we knew we would use it for family, church and school events," Stafford said. "When it looked like people were interested in it as a venue is when I got a business license in order to pay taxes. ... My husband and I spoke with [the next door neighbors] before starting the barn and they said that everything was totally fine. ... The barn would have never been built if they had opposed it when we first asked."
Stafford said she has had to refund money for weddings booked before its legality came under question, and said she was still allowing one more wedding at the venue free of charge because it was already scheduled, but conceded that she no longer planned to run the venue as a business.
Ultimately, after District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter moved to revisit the original ordinance, the commission voted 7-2 to rescind the event permit.
After some confusion between the county attorney and other officials, it was determined that the barn can still be used for weddings and other events, but cannot be used commercially because of the setback violations.