Board of Adjustment says no 'party barn' for Orange County

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the Orange County attorney who spoke at the hearing. Assistant county attorney James Bryan attended the hearing. The story has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

The Orange County Board of Adjustment finally came to a decision Monday night to reverse a previous ruling allowing a barn to be built on property owned by Chris and Kara Brewer. 

The decision came during the board’s second session of the month discussing the appeal.

Kara Brewer of Southeast Property Group, LLC had previously been denied a special use permit for the barn which was first conceived as an event space for weddings. After their permit was denied, a building permit was granted in June 2016 for a barn on the same property, this time under the idea it would be used for agricultural tourism. 

Chris Brewer, Chapel Hill resident and husband of Kara Brewer, said the couple planned on harvesting chestnuts on the property and roasting them in the proposed barn. 

“There will be $50,000 worth of chestnut trees on the farm,” Brewer said.

Brewer also said there would be bee hives on the property and they would be extracting and selling the honey from the hives. 

However, some members of the board were skeptical about the couple’s new intentions for the farm.

“Now you’re farmers because you own this place?” asked Barry Katz, Orange County board of adjustments member. 

Orange County’s current planning supervisor Michael Harvey, who had originally granted the building permit to the Brewers, told the court of their original plans for the property. 

“She (Kara Brewer) came to me looking to open a regulated retreat center, a wedding venue,” Harvey said. “I verbally communicated a permit to her but there was no written decision. There was no (agricultural)activity originally.”

After Brewer and Harvey spoke, closing arguments were heard from Andrew Petesch, the Brewer’s attorney and Leann Brown who represented the farmers near the Brewer’s new property. 

“They have the right to build a farm and use it however they want,” said Petesch. “Until it starts to be used for non-farm activities, they are permitted to build the barn.”

In Petesch’s closing statement, he referenced Mitchell vs. Barfield, a 1950 North Carolina Supreme Court decision related to a zoning conflict in Durham. 

“I don’t usually hear cases cited that are older than me,” Brown said.

Brown said agriculture tourism only applies when the non-farm activity is a minor part of the farm’s operation. 

“You build a septic tank to accommodate 260 people. You build a parking lot to accommodate 125 cars,” Brown said. “Look at the reality. What is the real use of this property?”

Brown finished her arguments with a personal story from the past weekend.

“I went to an orchard this weekend,” she said. “There was a 108 year old tree there, and there were bags and bags of apples, some jellies and a band playing. That is ag tourism. It’s been an orchard for 108 years and only has tourism to help keep it there. Building a venue to play music and planting a apple tree next to it is not ag tourism.”

The board discussed the facts again with help from the Orange County assistant attorney James Bryan, before coming to its decision. 

@ryansalch

city@dailytarheel.com

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