By Tia Lynn Ivey
County staff is looking to revise the ordinance regulating event facilities in the county to close exploitable loopholes and tighten restrictions for Agricultural zones of the county.
Morgan County has enacted a 60-day moratorium on new event facilities, while the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) mull over new proposed restrictions designed to crackdown controversial event facility ventures. Staff is proposing event facilities be restricted to the commercial zones of the county (C1 and C2) and banned from the agricultural zones (AG and AR).
At Tuesday’s Morgan County BOC meeting the BOC listened to a presentation from the county’s planning department, requesting changes to
“This has been a contentious issue over the years,” said Tara Cooner, county planner for Morgan County. According to Cooner, planning staff is concerned about recent “trends” related to event facilities in Morgan County.
According to county staff, “Staff has become increasingly concerned about the following trends observed related to event facilities in Morgan County.”
According to Cooner, a “non-profit” exemption clause in the ordinance can be used to avoid conditional use requirements. “it appears that the ability to use non-profit status to avoid conditional use approval and applicability of regulations is becoming common knowledge and the Planning office has received inquiries about the exemption.
Aside from general inquiries about avoiding approval, questions have been asked about circumventing minimum acreage and setbacks.”
Staff is also concerned about lodging and additional buildings.
“Staff has had several conversations with both existing event facility owners, and with others interested in starting a new event facility, about short term rentals. Existing and potential facility owners say that lodging is necessary to be competitive with venues like Nine Oaks in Walton County.
Increasingly, Staff is hearing that holding events is not enough. While it is plausible that applicants could apply for multiple uses, the trend is that event venue owners want to emulate facilities located in areas without regulations,” said the staff report.
“Event facility applicants provide information about the size and location of buildings when they request conditional use approval. Several of the approved facilities have grown and added more buildings, including structures that could potentially be used as lodging. There is nothing in the ordinance that prevents the growth of event facilities and Staff is pleased the businesses are successful. However, some of the structures have been constructed, or existing structures remodeled, without permits. The facility owners claim the additional structures are necessary to be competitive.”
Some local citizens objected to the planning department proposals arguing that it’s harder than ever to make a living as a farmer and event facilities provide an opportunity for farms in the county make extra income.
The Morgan County BOC promised to research the issue more thoroughly before making a decision on how, if at all, to revise the ordinance. In the meantime, the BOC voted unanimously to impose a moratorium on any new event facilities for the next 60 days.
The BOC will readdress the issue at an upcoming meeting.