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Grayson approves commercial recreation events

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – Grayson County supervisors have unanimously approved a special use permit that will allow various recreational events in Fries after a trial event went off without any issues earlier this year.

Crystal Leonard applied for a permanent special use permit for a parcel of land that is zoned Rural Farm Zone, after a successful ‘mud bog’ event held earlier this year was successful.

Supervisors approved the one-time permit for Leonard in March and the event was held in May. Due to the success of the May event, Leonard re-applied for permanent status to have similar events at the property a few times each year.

Grayson County’s Zoning Administrator Elaine Holeton addressed the board during a public hearing last month and noted that the county planning commission recommended approval of the new application.

The event was held on the farm of James Carico at the intersection of Stevens Creek Road and Cattle Drive in Fries. Future events would be held there, as well.

The entire tract is 73 acres, but only a portion of the tract is used for events.

Holeton pointed out that, if approved as submitted, the events would be permissible forever and that, as long as the events are conducive to the application, there would be no further action needed by the board of supervisors.

Supervisor David Sexton questioned why the board was considering a permanent approval, when it was his understanding that these events would be approved on a case-by-case basis for a while to see how the events went. He also asked if there were any concerns from neighbors and/or the sheriff’s department after the previous event.

Holeton answered that, while the board could certainly approve each event as it comes up, or limit the length of the permit, it was costly and time-consuming for both the applicant and county to go through the process every time the permit changes.

“The Code of Virginia requires that every time the application changes, it does have to go back through the planning commission and board of supervisors,” Holeton said. “It also requires public hearings, certified notices, advertisements in the paper and so forth. As staff, I would like to see an extended period of time.”

Holeton added that she didn’t think it was a good idea to have county staff – and the applicant, who has to pay fees every time the application is submitted – working on it every few months.

“It gets to be a lot of administrative work,” Holeton said.

Supervisor Eddie Rosenbaum questioned if the permit could be taken away if things got out of hand at the events.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet noted that if the applicants are in violation of the permit, it could be revocable – but those specific conditions would have to be listed if the county was going to be held to a certain standard.

Supervisors’ Chairman John Brewer asked if the board could give permission for a certain amount of time, and then review and approve on a permanent basis in the future without going through the whole process again.

“It’s not automatically renewable,” Sweet said, reiterating what Holeton said earlier, that the applicant would have to go through the entire process again to do anything different than what was originally approved.

Sweet added that the supervisors could put a limit on the number of events that could be done on an annual basis if they’d like.

When asked what a typical year of events would include, Leonard said it would likely be a minimum of six events each year:

• Mother’s Day Weekend (mud bog)

• Father’s Day Weekend (Dukefest)

• July 4 Weekend (Farm 4th Festival)

• 3rd week in July (“Battle of the Bands” concert)

• 2nd weekend in August (Back to School mud bog)

• Labor Day Weekend (concerts and mini-flea market)

An event for Halloween might be added and, according to the application.

All music events would end by 11 p.m. nightly and the mud bog events would generally end by 9 p.m. unless followed by a concert.

The application also stated that installation of outdoor wedding amenities was in progress and the facility may be rented for such after completion.

Future events may also include snow sledding events, benefit mud bogs for the Fries Volunteer Fire Department, reunions, church events or other gatherings.

When asked about any complaints received after the event in May, Holeton said she only received one noise complaint.

Holeton added that Sheriff Richard Vaughan reported two arrests for DUI in the Fries area in the early hours of the morning after the event, but there was no way to prove if that was a result of someone leaving the event intoxicated.

Sweet asked Leonard if the parking was sufficient for the size of events she was planning.

Leonard said there was plenty of room for the event in May and that additional space was available if necessary.

Sweet said his only recommendation would be to add a condition that requires off-street parking, as he heard from the sheriff’s department that there were some hazards created by people parking on the street in the area.

Initially, supervisors appeared to be headed towards approving a limited amount of events and/or expiration date of the permit, but later shifted their focus.

Brewer initially said he would like to see the permit limited to six events a year, with a review again in October 2015.

Sweet pointed out that if an expiration date is put on the permit, the board can’t re-authorize it automatically without going back through the entire process – costing both the applicant and county time and money.

Supervisor Kenneth Belton said events such as fiddlers’ conventions have been going on for decades and do nothing but bring money and people to the area.

“My opinion is let them do what they want to do and let the sheriff’s department look after it,” Belton said in response to concerns about events getting out of hand.

Vice Chairman Brenda Sutherland agreed, and said the applicants have clearly done their homework and met all of the required conditions.

“The planning commission has approved it,” Sutherland said. “I have no problem with it.”

Following the comment, Belton motioned to approve the application as submitted, without restrictions or an expiration date.

The motion was seconded by Sutherland and passed unanimously.