By Sarah Wibell
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners approved a request for a conditional use permit to operate an event facility on 58.55 acres at 2761 Athens Highway after a 3 – 1 vote with Commissioner Ben Riden in opposition. The request had been tabled last month to examine safety logistics expressed by concerned neighbors. Previously, a few community members issued concerns over impacts on traffic and accidents as well as the possibility of shooting-related events. Applicant Edward McDuffie responded last month that the planned facility, which would be able to host up to 350 people, will not host any shooting events.
Riden expressed concern that the application for the event facility was made following the construction of ta barn integral to the facility. “I’ve got several of these facilities in my district … It’s a beautiful barn. I’ve got no problem with a big facility per se. I’ve got a problem with how you went about doing it, because I think you backdoored it intentionally.”
Planning Tara Cooner stated, “The applicant originally asked for a barn permit. The question was asked why we didn’t put a stop to it when we saw it was more than a barn. To be clear, it is a barn with an apartment, and we have dozens of those in county. It is a fancy barn, but we have a lot of those out there, too. Until it’s approved for something else, it’s a barn with an apartment. Whether he had an ulterior motive when he permitted the project is irrelevant at this point.”
Cooner summarized, “The Planning Commission (which unanimously voted to approve the application with certain conditions) was concerned about excessive speeds, traffic on 441 – particularly on VFW Lane with limited sight distance, and guest use of the dam (that is on the property). The applicant stated that only guests with mobility issues or associated with the bridal party would drive across the dam … He also planned to install a DOT compliant guardrail on both sides of the dam … (those in opposition stated) their concerns being more than just traffic hazards. Comments were also made about hearing gunshots from the property.”
In regard to increased traffic turning into and out of the facility, McDuffie asserted, “I have notified the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department … They were more than willing to do traffic control for me, and I’m willing to pay them to do it … I have every intention of doing it correctly, and I feel like I’ve gone out of my way to build a facility that goes with the city of Madison and Morgan County.”
The event facility was approved with the following conditions: VFW Lane is used for emergency vehicles only, the access road must be all-weather surface, the applicant must submit a lighting plan to be approved by the director of planning and development, the applicant will install Department of Transportation approved guardrail on both sides of the dam if he uses that dam, prohibits events related to gun sports or gun activities, limit event attendance to 350, and require the widening of the driveway from the entry to the parking lot to be 20 feet to permit two-way traffic.