Cafe proposal near lakes prompts debate

CORDRY-SWEETWATER — A family that’s owned land just outside the Cordry-Sweetwater lakes neighborhood for 20 years wants to open a small café on their property.

They’d also like to open a bed-and-breakfast in the seven-bedroom home they built there in 2013.

Already, the Barnabys are renting out a couple of rooms in the home on AirBnB for overnight stays, which is allowed without a permit according to the county’s zoning ordinance.

They have a home occupation permit to operate an art studio, which allows a resident artist to sell objects produced there.

They’d like to turn their barn into a craft gallery where lakes-area residents and other artists can exhibit their wares, and maybe sell supplies to those artists so they don’t have to drive to the city to get them.

What’s not to like?

Lakes-area residents came up with several points for and against.

Most of the opponents said they moved to the lakes because of its lack of services and commercial activity, and they don’t want to see the increased traffic, noise, lighting or any other negative connotations that come with businesses going in near a residential area.

Supporters said they want more services, especially a restaurant nearby.

Neighbors’ concerns — and lack of specifics in the business plans — caused the Brown County Area Plan Commission to take a neutral position on the owners’ request. The other options were to make a positive recommendation or a negative recommendation to the county commissioners.

On Jan. 17, the Brown County commissioners will be the ones to decide whether the Barnaby family’s land on Sweetwater Trail will be rezoned.

James and Mary Barnaby petitioned the APC in November to change their 20 acres at 7320 Sweetwater Trail from secondary residential (R2) to accommodation business (AB).

Mary Barnaby said her family has owned property in Brown County since 1977. They bought 20 acres on Sweetwater Trail, near its intersection with Eagle Drive, 20 years ago and used it for a family getaway. When they retired, the couple decided to build on the property.

Their adult daughters, Jacquie Hayes and Katherine Nix, have become interested in operating businesses there.

No businesses are allowed inside the Cordry-Sweetwater Conservancy District because of neighborhood covenants. The Barnaby property lies within sight of the lakes neighborhood but not inside it.

AB zoning allows the land to be used for a large range of purposes, such as a farm, public art gallery, gas station, hotel park, restaurant or bed and breakfast.

R2 zoning does not allow for a restaurant, but it does allow an art gallery, as well as a bed and breakfast with a special exception.

Hayes said last week that the family doesn’t plan to open a full-service restaurant, but a small, 24-seat café in the barn, as well as a bed and breakfast in the home. She said they were told they can’t do anything with the barn without getting AB zoning first.

They already are selling craft items in the barn, but it’s not insulated yet because they don’t want to go to that expense if they aren’t going to get the zoning. Still, in subzero cold last week, people were out there shopping, Hayes said. “You know you’re going to be successful when that happens,” she said.

Six people spoke in favor of the Barnaby family’s plans at a rezoning hearing in November.

In addition to a café, neighbors said they were excited about the prospect of a craft supply store and a place where local crafters could exhibit and sell their work, so they wouldn’t have to drive to Nashville or Columbus or the Indianapolis area.

The Barnaby daughters told the APC that they think it’s important to have a place for young people to be introduced to the arts, and they want to be an arts hub for the northern part of the county.

The family also has experience operating restaurants, including Don & Dona’s in Franklin, their application said.

They had been selling food on their property in their current R2 zoning but stopped when they were told that wasn’t legal, they said.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Jim Schultz said that the family’s plans “speak to a bigger picture” in the county about the need for more small businesses, especially those that provide services to residents.

“If you go back 20, 30, 40 years ago and farther back, this community was full of small burgs that had grocery stores and fuel stations and places to eat everywhere,” he said. Those are slowly disappearing.

“As we move toward a more local economy and quality of life that is appealing to people, we need to have places they can go and visit, to get materials they may need. … It speaks toward what I would like to see in Brown County, which is to see more local places, more local restaurants. This is kind of a test of what’s next here.”

Six people spoke out against the family’s plans.

“When I moved to Brown County, I didn’t expect this at all,” said Michael Hicks, one of the property’s next-door neighbors.

He carried a petition to try to stop the plans from going forward; the Barnabys had their own petition as well.

He worries that this zoning change will lead to parking lots, noise, streetlights, neon signs and drops in property value. He’s also protective of his right to have a gun range on his property and doesn’t want the Barnabys’ plans to infringe on that.

APC member Paul Navarro and a few of the neighbors also brought up concerns about road safety. The intersection of Eagle Drive and Sweetwater Trail is the entrance many lakes residents use to get into the neighborhood, and it’s about 150 feet south of the Barnabys’ driveway.

The family and their supporters said they didn’t expect the business expansion to have that much of an effect on traffic, and if people would drive the speed limit, safety wouldn’t be as much of an issue now.

Opponents also expressed concern about the fact that zoning changes stay even if a property is sold. Since this property had been for sale for three years, they worried that any new owner who had business zoning would build something wildly different than what the Barnabys had in mind.

Mary Barnaby said the property didn’t sell when they had it on the market before, so they’re back, and they have deep enough roots here that they’re “not going to start something and walk away from it.”

Earlier in the meeting, the APC had approved a request from a different family to subdivide land so that a son could have legal access to his father’s cabinet-making shop if something were to happen to his father. APC member Russ Herndon said that was “a real Brown County thing to do” and said it’s important to encourage “legacy crafts” passing from one generation of Brown Countians to another.

The Barnabys said this was another one of those cases, with multiple generations of a family wanting to run businesses that are based in the arts.

Herndon said he thought the family’s proposal lacked sufficient information to make a recommendation on changing the zoning. Member Jane Gore agreed. “We know AB zoning involves multiple uses, but we’re not sure what their intent is,” she said.

APC member Deborah Bartes proposed sending neither a positive nor a negative recommendation onto the county commissioners, putting the decision entirely in their hands. “I really am pro-business. I really like to see business expansion in Brown County. It expands our tax base and makes everybody happy. But I feel like there are a lot of questions,” she said.

Last week, Hayes said she also had some questions, mostly about the zoning ordinance. She said she’s been researching properties that are doing similar things to what her family wants to do and has found inconsistent zoning practices.

“The problem is not the people; the problem is the zoning ordinance,” Hayes said.

The APC has been updating pieces of the zoning ordinance for more than a year. It has not been completely overhauled since it was written in the 1960s.

The county’s comprehensive plan, which Planning Director Chris Ritzmann quoted in her staff report about this project, says that “Businesses that supply the goods and services that make community life possible — grocery stores, restaurants, drug stores, banks, health care businesses, construction-oriented businesses, home maintenance businesses, etc. — should be protected, encouraged and accommodated, as long as they remain compatible with the desire to preserve.”

The matter will be on the Brown County commissioners’ agenda Wednesday, Jan. 17. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Salmon Room of the County Office Building.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.