In response to Joseph Pepe's comment: there's nothing realistic about letting the Brewers and Southeast Property Group game the system to build their event center. Are they entrepreneurs or are they farmers? Applying for a special use permit to build an event center on property zoned for residential and farm use sounds like they're entrepreneurs. Unfortunately for them, the Board of Adjustments correctly denied the permit because the event center wasn't in harmony with the property's surroundings. So they played their next card - they somehow obtained a USDA farm number, changed their application to say they were a farm and that their $735,000 building was a utility building, not an event center, and received approval from the Orange County Planning Department. I guess that's the point where they began to identify themselves as farmers. Nobody is being sandbagged here except maybe the rural community surrounding the event center.
So many questions come to mind after reading this article. In the photo attached to the article, the Brewers are shown watering their "orchard" with water they brought to the property. Why? Because after owning the property for two years and planting 36 chestnut trees and a small flower bed, they apparently have not yet put in a well on their property. That's right, a farm with no water for irrigating their crops. If they're primarily a farm and the wedding events are incidental to farm use, why is building the barn and booking the weddings taking priority over digging a well? Second, Chris Brewer of Southeast Property Group is quoted as saying " We could have built a barn with four poles and a roof but if we make it a little bit nicer...we can also do weddings as well." Apparently building a $735,000 barn on a quarter-million dollar property with a lighting budget of $78,000 for the chandeliers alone is what he means by a "little nicer." It just doesn't ring true that a real farmer who wants to hold weddings in their barn to supplement their farm income would spend $735,000 on building a 4200 square foot barn (including $78,000 to spend on chandeliers) the sole farming purpose of which is "to process flowers and chestnuts in the late fall." Sounds to me like "alternative facts" from the Brewers. Finally, I'm perplexed by David Owens opining that the weddings are "pretty clearly incidental" to the flower farm. The evidence that I heard presented at the October Board of Adjustment hearings (read the minutes here: http://preserveruralorange.org/uploads/BOA…) doesn't make that clear at all, and as the article says the BOA seems to doubt that the Barn of Chapel Hill is anything other than an events center. The Orange County Planning Department believes their hands are tied because the Brewers have a USDA farm number and are thus considered a bona fide farm and exempt from zoning regulations that apply to commercial endeavors. (Why they were able to obtain a farm number for 22 acres of wooded property that they had never farmed is unclear.) But if nonfarm uses on a farm property ARE NOT exempt from county zoning rules, then common sense tells us that this $735,000 event center disguised as a utility barn on a property with farming activity that is clearly secondary should not be exempt.
To those commenting here who appear to be confused by the NC laws and regulations related to agrotourism and bona fide farms, I encourage you to read the laws and, at the very least, read the article on which you're commenting. Agrotourism in North Carolina was intended to help real farmers and their existing farms diversify and become more financial resilient by relaxing zoning regulations, not to allow commercial businesses to work around existing zoning laws by pretending to be farms. Southeast Property Group bought some land that had not been farmed in years and was entirely wooded. The only way for the Brewers and Southeast Property Group to build their commercial wedding and event center on this property (which is not zoned for commercial use) was to either obtain a Special Use Permit (which Orange County refused to grant them) or to meet one of the criteria to become a bona fide farm. Even though there was no farm - just woods - on the property, Southeast Property Group was able to obtain a Farm Service Agency number, thus meeting one of the criteria. At the time they received the number, the small flower bed, the chestnut saplings, and the rented beehives were not on the property. No farm, no barn storing equipment, nothing - just woods. If Southeast Property Group succeeds in building their event center, they will not be inviting people to visit their farm, they will be renting out their $735,000 "utility building" (complete with chandeliers and a bride's room) for "elegant farm weddings." Zoning laws exist for a reason. If they weren't there, "ProudlyAffiliated", "Devil's Advocate", and "The Honorable...Presh", your neighbor's house might be replaced by a Walmart.
I'm not sure what website the commenter "Morgan" was viewing, but Southeast Property Group's "Barn of Chapel Hill" website http://barnofchapelhill.com definitely DOES NOT show that the "farm" is currently selling chestnuts and flowers. And 3 beehives does not an apiary make. Even Ms. Brewer was honest enough to admit in the article (if "Morgan" bothered to read it) that they have chestnut saplings, a small flower bed, and 3 beehives. By the way, if that's the definition of a farm, I also have a farm - and I definitely do not have a farm.
No, this is not misogyny, this is not bias against young farmers or new farmers. This is honest people calling out the dishonest manipulation by Southeast Property Group to slip through a loophole in current zoning regulations so that they could build a huge commercial wedding and event center in a residential, rural area. Whatever Mr. and Ms. Brewer wear to water their flower bed and saplings, let's not pretend they are farmers. And shame on them for presenting to their family, friends, neighbors and the press that they are.
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