By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved a Farmstay on Fieldcrest Lane, located between Madison and Buckhead, that has been a contentious issue for the eight surrounding residents, with five of the neighbors opposing it, and three in favor of it.
Caroyln Crafts, who owns a 50-acre farm, which features livestock, alpacas, and a small cottage, is seeking to use the property as a Farmstay, to accommodate overnight guests wanting to tour her farm.
In order to appease the concerns of neighbors, the Morgan County Planning Commission recommended approval on the following conditions, that Crafts limit the guest number to no more than four people at a time and that guest could only stay a maximum of two nights at the farm. Morgan County’s ordinance on Farmstays allows for up to 15 people to stay overnight at one time, but Crafts agreed to comply with the special restrictions because of the residential surroundings near her farm. The BOC, in a 3-1 vote, approved Crafts’ application with those stipulations at the monthly regular meeting on Tuesday, June 7.
Despite these concessions, some neighbors still rigorously opposed Crafts’ Farmstay plan, speaking out during the public comment portion of the crowded BOC meeting Tuesday. Neighbors who opposed the application expressed concerns that allowing Crafts to operate a Farmstay would negatively effect condition of the single-lane, private gravel road running through the neighborhood up to Crafts’ farm, that undesirable strangers would be consistently staying nearby, and the approval would set a precedent for further commercial uses in the future, such as a bed-and-breakfast.
However, according to Tara Cooner, county planner, Crafts’ farm does not meet the criteria for a bed-and-breakfast, and any future commercial venture would have to go through a completely separate rezxoning application and approval process.
Two adjacent neighbors, Vick Stewman and Cotton Cummings, spoke in opposition of Crafts’ Farmstay plan.
“This petition may check all the boxes as to what has been outlined as an approved Farmstay, but it does not fit suitability for our neighborhood,” said Stewman. “It does not fit the suitability of our neighborhood which sits down a one-mile-long, dead-end drive…out of eight residences, five of those eight residents oppose it…that’s better than 60 percent of the neighborhood that opposes the granting of this Farmstay,” said Stewman, who also worried having a Farmstay in a residential area would decrease neighbors’ property values. “I cannot think of a single reason I should deem it desirable for our neighborhood.”
“Not everybody on our road is thrilled,” said Cummings, who complained that Crafts is a part-time resident in the neighborhood and worried that the “low prices” she charges for people to come would not attract a “high-class” cliental. “She is not always there and the cliental coming in may or may not be watched, or may or may not be vetted.”
Another neighbor, Anne Hightower, spoke in favor of Crafts’ Farmstay venture. “I cannot see how this Farmstay permit, in anyway, would have any effect on our properties, the value of our properties or our activities,” said Hightower. “I really think it’s something we could all be proud of.”
Chairman Donald Harris was not persuaded by the opposition. “Anytime you rule on something, you have to rule based on objectives, you cannot let personal feelings get in the way,” said Harris. “We got to do what the criteria says. You cannot just say it’s unsuitable. You have got give me some facts as to why it’s unsuitable and I haven’t seen any yet.”
Commissioner Ron Milton disagreed with Harris and ultimately voted against approval for Crafts’ Farmstay.
“It is contentious, because it is on gravel road and in a subdivision,” said Milton. “In granting a use to someone, we have to ask, are you in turn, making it a detriment to others?”
Commissioner Ellen Warren made a motion to approve the Farmstay as long as Crafts abided by the Planning Commission’s special restrictions.
“I would like to say that I understand the fears of the people on this road, but I think this is a business endeavor that will have little impact on everyone’s properties.”
Commissioners Andy Ainslie and Philip Clack voted with Warren to approve the Farmstay. Several of the opposing neighbors openly lamented the vote and stormed out of the BOC meeting. Carolyn Crafts thanked the BOC and promised to abide by the Planning Commission’s limitations in the future.