The future of event facilities in Morgan County is yet to be determined as the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) tabled a revised version of an event facility text amendment in a 3 to 1 vote on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
Commissioner Ben Riden was particularly displeased with the county planning commission’s recommendation for the text amendment, which cut out the majority of the BOC’s proposed regulations. Among the proposed changes to land on the commission’s chopping block were increasing the minimum lot size for an event facility from five acres to 10 acres, increasing setbacks from 25 feet to 200 feet, increasing road frontage requirements, adding road classifications to restrict eligible locations for event facilities, and removing a regulation exception for gatherings of 50 people or less. None of those proposed changes made it to the Planning Commission’s final recommendation.
Instead, the planning recommended adding a minimum 500-foot distance between an event facility and the nearest neighbor as well as applying the noise ordinance to event facilities. Events would not be able to begin before 7 a.m. or end past 11 p.m. Under the proposed changes, event facility owners would have to notify county staff of any major events 14 days beforehand so the county can schedule someone to be on call in the case of a noise complaint.
Riden’s main objection pertained to allowing “for profit” events for 50 people or less as an exemption in the ordinance.
“I am adamant about this one,” said Riden, who argued that the exemption created a loophole for applicants who are rejected by the BOC.
“This just gives them an escape route if we say ‘no, you can’t have event facility,’ and then this gives them a loophole to have one anyway,” said Riden. “I want to restrict the ‘for-profit’ events.”
However, County Planner Tara Cooner pointed out that the BOC reserved the right to disallow the “for profit” exemption on any event facility requests that come before them. Cooner inquired about the rights of property owners when it comes to small for-profit events.
“What about the rights of the people who come to us and want to make additional money of their properties?” asked Cooner.
“Let them plant fruit trees,” quipped Riden. “What about the 15 other people who live around them and infringing on their rights? We are not against event facilities, but only if they make sense.”
Cooner also explained that the intention of the exemption, which makes an allowance for profit-driven events of 50 people or less, is to prevent county staff from having to check up on these small events to ensure no money is involved.
“We just simply do not have the man power to do that,” said Cooner. “We are responsible for enforcing what is written, so if we take away that exemption we will be responsible of tracking down every small gathering.”
“Well, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do,” replied Riden.
Commissioner Ron Milton also expressed concerns over the revised event facility ordinance, believing the proposed requirements left the potential to infringe upon neighboring property owners’ rights if event facilities were approved next door.
Ultimately, the BOC decided to table the ordinance and set up a work session with county planners to further craft an event facility ordinance.
“We cannot make everyone happy, but we should all get together and try to iron out the details,” said Commissioner Philip Von Hanstein.
“We may not fully understand all of this yet and may need to take some time to educate ourselves before voting on it,” said Commissioner Ainslie.
Chairman Donald Harris pledged to do whatever he felt was right for the county.
“We have to look at what is best for the entirety of the county,” said Harris. “To me, I will do what is right and if I get voted out because of it, I will still be right and know I did what was best for the county.”
Commissioners Ainslie, Von Hanstein and Milton voted to table the ordinance, and Commissioner Riden voted against tabling the vote.