Rezoning request denied for lakes-area cafe, gallery

CORDRY-SWEETWATER — A family in the Cordry-Sweetwater area will not be allowed to open a cafe after the Brown County Commissioners unanimously voted down their rezoning request Jan. 17.

The Barnaby family had asked to have 20 acres of their property at 7320 Sweetwater Trail changed from secondary residential (R2) to accommodation business (AB).

In describing their votes, the commissioners cited the county’s comprehensive plan, Indiana Code and opposition to “spot zoning.”

“Approval of this zoning change would substantially change the character of this neighborhood,” commissioner Jerry Pittman said.

“I think we have an obligation to all of the citizens in this county to ensure growth in our county happens in such a way that it is responsible and that it does contribute to the overall well being of the county.”

Pittman said he is “very pro small business,” but citing Indiana Code 36-7-4-603, he said was against the rezoning. IC 36-7-4-603 states that the plan commission and the legislative body must consider five factors, including “the most desirable use for which the land in each district is adapted.”

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 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.

The current 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. A different board, the Board of Zoning Appeals, hears special exception requests.

Pittman said he was also concerned the zoning change would violate the principles of the comprehensive plan.

“As feeble as our comprehensive plan may be in this county — and it needs to be revised — the general principles dictate that businesses are being situated along state highways, main thoroughfares, usually adjacent to other business areas in order to segregate business from residential and other uses,” he said.

Pittman made the motion to deny the rezone request.

“I generally side with property owners being able to use their property the way they want to, but we do have criteria in the comprehensive plan, so I will support your motion, Jerry,” commissioner Diana Biddle said.

Commissioners President Dave Anderson said he was opposed to spot zoning, or allowing land to be used in a way that is very different from surrounding parcels.

In the Barnaby family’s case, the neighboring properties are all R2 or LR (lake residential).

“We’ve been consistent in the way we’ve voted in the past on spot zoning. … It’s been no,” Anderson said. “I never thought it was a good idea to put a business in a residential neighborhood.”

James and Mary Barnaby petitioned the Brown County Area Plan Commission in November to change the zoning of their 20 acres. The APC sent neither a positive nor a negative recommendation onto the county commissioners, putting the decision entirely in their hands.

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.

Currently, the Barnabys are offering two rooms in the home for rent 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. Hayes said she sells paintings and soaps she has made in the gallery along with other handmade items.

The family wanted to turn their barn into a craft gallery where lakes-area residents and other artists could exhibit their wares, and maybe sell supplies to those artists so they don’t have to drive to the city to get them. That would also be the home of their cafe.

“We’re retired. This is for fun for us. My parents couldn’t sell the home. The home was for sale for two years. It’s a huge home that my parents, who are 75 and 76, are living in that my father built. It’s the last home he’ll ever build,” Hayes said.

“Everybody wants us to do this, with the exception of a few neighbors where I think there are a few personal issues. … We heard the complaints. We don’t want a bar, we don’t want a dance hall. We don’t want to do any of those things.”

The family wanted to build a 24-seat cafe, which Hayes said would be valuable to visitors who arrive at their Air BnB later in the evening and aren’t able to make it into Nashville in time for dinner.

It also would be open to other diners. “The people at the lakes are excited about some place they can walk and meet with people because they can’t do that (now),” Hayes said.

“We’ve been very welcomed by the majority of our community. We have over 400 petition signatures. We did not ask anybody here today, because we really would like to be peacemakers. We thought we were creating something beautiful and not making people angry.”

At least 20 Cordry-Sweetwater residents showed up to voice their opposition at the Jan. 17 Brown County Commissioners meeting.

Resident Michael Snyder was the spokesperson. He has lived on the south side of the Barnaby property on Hicks Road for 17 years.

“All of us and the surrounding neighbors have lived here for decades longer than they have. They come in and decide they want to change our neighborhood by putting in a business in our rural community after just living here for just over a year,” Snyder said.

Hayes said she grew up in Brown County, but moved to Atlanta for her career before moving back recently.

“We sincerely appreciate your support in keeping our community rural by declining their application for rezoning to business,” Snyder told the commissioners.

The opposition argued that having the business in the rural area would depreciate their property values. They also said that the intersection near the Barnaby home is prone to accidents.

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.

“Working out in the yard, it’s not uncommon to hear the locking up of a vehicle’s brakes, a horn blowing and the occasional people hollering at each other for pulling out in front of each other. That’s a real bad intersection right there. I’ve done it and I’ve had it done to me,” Snyder said.

He worried that the bed and breakfast and cafe would use industrial dumpsters that would attract animals and stink. He also mentioned past guests at the Barnabys’ home wandering onto neighboring properties.

“We’ve had trespassers. The neighbors have had trespassers. Prior to this bed and breakfast, we never had that problem in 17 years,” Snyder said.

“They allow complete strangers complete access to their 20 acres, including use of a golf cart. The property lines are not marked very well at all, especially in the woods. I can only imagine this being a lot worse if they go to six bedrooms.”

He also argued that the business may hinder his Second Amendment right because he and other neighbors have shooting ranges and allow hunting in their woods.

Resident Robyn Bowman questioned the commissioners about other spot-zoned restaurants in the county, like the Farmhouse Cafe or the Gatesville General Store, both of which are in Hamblen Township.

“How do you logically say those two are OK? I know you were not on the board, and I get that, but that’s what’s going through my mind. How do you equate those?” she asked. “How do you say that’s any different than Farmhouse Café or Gatesville Store?”

“We can’t base today’s decision on decisions that may have been made improperly in the past,” Pittman responded.

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.”

Biddle said the decision came down to land use and nothing more. “We’re zoning the land. We’re not zoning the people, we’re not zoning the business plan, and we’re not zoning who the people are. We’re zoning the property,” she said. “It’s a tough call.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.