The Barn of Chapel Hill is officially moving forward after a series of permit hearings that led to citizen concern.
Many community members felt that the “event barn” was a euphemism for a “party barn,” and worried about intoxicated driving, loud noise and bright lights late at night. When Kara Brewer, owner and operator of the Barn of Chapel Hill, began voicing her plans last fall, neighbors and community members made clear that they wanted the farm to be used as a farm, not an event space.
One community organization, Preserve Rural Orange, felt strongly that the event barn wouldn’t adhere to community needs. Preserve Rural Orange’s website describes the nonprofit organization as a citizen group that seeks to protect watershed land and farms in Orange County. When Brewer sought out an agritourism exemption for her farm back in January, Preserve Rural Orange published the results on their website, claiming that Brewer couldn’t prove the barn would “maintain or promote public health, safety and welfare; maintain or enhance the value of contiguous property; and be in harmony with the area around it.”
Originally, the Board of Adjustment rejected Brewer’s plans, but officials admitted there was not much they could do to keep the project from moving forward.
Brewer’s farm was exempt from county zoning regulations due to it being classified as a “bona-fide” farm, meaning a farm that produces or takes part in activities relating to the production of crops, vegetables, plants or other forms of agriculture. The exemptions can stay in place so long as the farm continues to engage in the agricultural industry. Brewer, however, still chose to go through the process of obtaining permission to build on her land by issuing several requests for the special use permit.
“We still decided to go through the process just because we really wanted to engage the community and say look, I want to do this,” Brewer said. “I want to hear your concerns; I want to know what it is that I can do to make sure that as we invite people to our farm that it is not a problem for you.”
Brewer said that she took concerns into account, and is working to make the Barn of Chapel Hill a win-win for everyone. Brewer is currently using the barn to store equipment and start seedlings that will be transplanted next spring, but come late fall, she said that she expects it to be ready for events.
“I think one of the main concerns was sound, which is very understandable,” Brewer said. “We’re really making sure we’re not allowing any outside amplified music. We are making sure that any kind of event will be inside the barn so that we can keep windows and doors shut. There’s not going to be any tents out there or anything like that, so the fact that we have this barn out here is very conducive for sound control.”
Brewer said she and her family have begun to take steps toward making their event space work for them without being a nuisance to the community, and they are also in the process of developing their farm.
Currently, Brewer has two bee hives, and is hoping to add more so they can begin to sell honey in 2017. She has over 40 chestnut trees, with plans to double in number next year. In addition, Brewer has begun planting the flower field, and has 1,000 flowers in the ground right now. Brewer expects products to be ready to sell in 2017, when the agritourism she hopes to have on the farm can begin to flourish.
“We’re seeing a lot of farm land go toward housing developments and shopping centers, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, “Brewer said. “But we also need to make sure that we’re really keeping aware of the fact that we also need to be able to put farm land back into production and really try to save our family farms. One of the best ways to do that is through agritourism.”
Brewer added, “Agritourism, I believe, really strengthens the family farm. It helps with the connection to the public, brings people out to farm. It encourages learning and public engagement.”
As part of this agritourism, Brewer plans to have educational tours in which students can see the bee hives through an observational hive. She envisions an entire bee program, where visitors can see hives in the flower field and see the queen bees up close. In addition, she plans to use the flower field to teach students about different types of plants while having them physically engage in the planting process—this, Brewer hopes, will be put in place by summer of 2017.
Come next year, Brewer said that the Barn of Chapel Hill and the surrounding land will be up-and-running for business. For now, she is working on organization, construction and putting strategies in place to keep the peace with neighbors.