The Orange County Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to reject a special use permit request to build an event venue called the Barn of Chapel Hill.
The public hearing for the event center, also called the Party Barn, took place on Monday, Nov. 9, at the Orange County Planning Department, 131 West Margaret Lane.
A hundred concerned community members attended the hearing equipped with protest signs and agree/disagree signs to hold up during the meeting.
The three standards for the special use permit were that the use would maintain public health and safety, enhance the value of contiguous property and that the project would be in harmony with the surrounding area.
All three criteria were not met.
The Barn of Chapel Hill, which was proposed to be a renovated barn, was set to be placed in wooded area between Morrow Mill and Milikan Roads near the White Cross community on about 22 acres of land, only 4 of which would the actual event space have occupied.
The residents’ main concerns were the sound that would be generated from parties in what is a very quiet neighborhood, the increased traffic to rural roads and the welfare concern of the livestock, amongst other apprehensions.
Kara Brewer, the applicant, is the property owner and currently runs a rental property business in Chapel Hill with her husband. Brewer brought in expertise testimonies from the project engineer, a real estate appraiser and realtor.
Sharon Lynn, the attorney representing Brewer, argued the project met the SUP requirements.
“We believe the finished barn will be a beautiful asset to the community,” Lynn said. “We do not believe it will negatively impact the surrounding neighbors in any way."
Lynn also said Brewer hoped the barn will serve as a gathering place for everyone in the community.
Tim Smith, senior engineer of the project, was brought in as an expert for testimony.
Smith said the barn would have two access points, one of which was designated as a service entrance and septic area on Milikan Road. The main access point on Morrow Mill Road for event-goers, however, was in front a home and the residents had previously raised concerns that the headlights from cars coming in and leaving the venue would shine into the home. Smith said that it was a valid concern but no definite plans had been made to rectify the light issue. There were also three houses adjacent to the service entrance as well.
As far as the barn structure itself, Smith describe Brewer’s process.
"What Kara is doing a disassembling a barn from upstate New York from, an 1800's era barn, moving the timber frame of that barn down here and reconstructing it on this site,” Smith said. “Which I've seen pictures of the existing barn, we don't have them here, it's a beautiful structure. To be able to reuse that back here on this site I think that's a really good thing."
As far as the noise concern, Smith said that there would be no amplified outdoor music after 8 P.M., but also admitted that there had been no discussion on how best to mitigate the sound coming from indoors.
Brewer also volunteered expert witness as a property manger.
“I started my business plan for this project about three and half, four years ago,” Brewer said. “That is when I started doing some initial market research on local wedding venues actually because I had helped planned several weddings for family and friends. And as we were looking for different venues, it was actually hard to find an available venue in Chapel Hill, the few that are available are booked very far in advance.”
Brewer said she primarily expected weddings and wedding rehearsals at the Barn, which wedding season runs from May to October, so that would be the busiest time.
“During that time I do expect to have around one to three events per week on the property,” Brewer said.
John McThaw, a real estate appraiser, also offered expert testimony.
As for how the completion of the project would affect property values, McThaw didn’t have an answer.
“It’s awfully hard to anticipate,” McThaw said. “What I try to do is look at existing [values], I looked at the last four years in a two mile radius at existing wedding facilities. … There doesn't seem to be anything that jumps out that looks as though there would be in diminution in the value of the adjacent properties.
To be able to sit here and say what the impact of value is going to be on this, you have to actually have something that you can test. The theory of appraisal is based on matched pairs.”
For the opposing side, Dr. Noral Stewart, an acoustical consultant, was brought as an expert for testimony to discuss the noise problem.
“This is a very quiet, remote area,” Stewart said. “We measured sound levels on Saturday evening in the 30-40 decibels, occasionally dipping below 30. It’s a very quiet community. The kind of place where you put something with sound, that sound is going to stand out.”
Stewart said that the air conditioning systems in an average building are around 40 decibels.
Having worked with night clubs, churches and wedding venues for controlling sound complaints, Stewart said that the main issue is the bass in music.
“It's not that hard to control the higher frequencies,” Stewart said. “But the bass, unless you really are careful, and really know what you're doing, it can easily get out on you.”
Stewart said that part of the problem lies in the fact that the way higher frequencies are controlled actually make the bass control weaker. He said that controlling the bass is possible in a venue like this, but it takes experts and more money with specific construction techniques to do so.
“I haven't seen any evidence to show me what has been done to assure that the bass is contained in this building,” Stewart said.
One community member raised the question of what kind of sound a garbage or utility truck and hundreds of cars coming in and out would generate. While Stewart couldn’t give any numbers right away, he said the noise would be an extra concern to the neighbors.
Dr. Elizabeth Hillborn, a veterinarian, spoke on the potential adverse effects of the venue on the surrounding livestock.
“[This area] has attracted a large concentration of horse farms and other domestic livestock facilities,” Hillborn said. “There are over a dozen [of them] within one and a half miles of this.”
She said that horses are prey animals and they respond to disruptions in their environment with fight or flight responses.
“We had a really good example of the effect of environmental noise on a horse farm adjacent to this site,” Hillsborn said. “The incident that happened at the Barn at Valhalla, the fireworks on the night of Saturday, Sept. 26, loud repetitive noises. The horses spooked and raced all over the pasture, making deep grooves in the pasture, sliding around, and the thoroughbred attacked the other horse, injuring it to the point it needed medical attention. I’d like to point out that this is adjacent to the facility, a sensitive horse like that could react again in the future in that manner to louder, episodic noises, being startled by lights, other activity.”
She also said there’s a poultry operation established adjacent to the facility as well and that is well established in veterinary literature that poultry production is decreased with environment stress.
Multiple members of the community, some of which had family ties to this area that went back for generations, spoke out with serious concerns on traffic and how introducing hundreds of people to a rural community may bring more danger, such as how partygoers leaving may drive after consuming alcohol.
Many people said if the venue had already been established before they bought their homes, they wouldn’t have moved to the area.
After closing the hearing, the board discussed the ramifications of the project and came to the conclusion that it was not suited for the community.