County still pursues zoning violations
A change in state law won’t mean the end of zoning disputes for Cross Creek Arena. In January, the county ordered the arena, 1916 McIntyre Road in Wingate, shut down for not following North Carolina’s commercial building code, with property owner Jay Brown receiving letters highlighting multiple violations including the lack of a sprinkler system. The issue seemingly had come about due to a change in state law, where horse farms, previously exempt from commercial rules, were now being forced to follow stricter safety measures for any structure that held events. However that state law was altered, giving such farms an exemption, provided they allow a yearly safety inspection. County officials meanwhile are pursuing an argument tying Cross Creek to the ongoing legal battles over who has the right to zone and regulate farm activities.
“The change in the statute did not affect the county’s zoning jurisdiction over the property,” Union County Public Information Officer Brett Vines said. “The legislature amended the statute dealing with the building code by exempting farm buildings of the type used by the Cross Creek Arena, except that the county inspection department retains jurisdiction to inspect the bleachers and spectator seating structures. The jurisdiction of the Environmental Heath Department was not affected by the change.”
Brown was cited earlier this year, on April 1, with a zoning violation for an event held March 20.
The county did move forward however to enforce their land use ordinance, telling Brown he wasn’t allowed to hold rodeos without a special use permit, something he had failed to obtain. Brown wondered why his facility has been able to operate since 2007 without obtaining a special use permit for the events, now suddenly can’t open without one.
“You spend $400,000 building something and then they say you can’t operate anymore,” Brown said. “The county told me that all of a sudden I had a change in use, that people just started coming to these events. How did I have a change in use? It’s been used for the same thing since I started in 2007.”
With the change in argument, the issue now appears to be similar to the one the county currently faces with another local farmer. Marshville farmer Thomas “Pinky” Marsh has been in and out of court over the last four years with the county, arguing they don’t have the authority to regulate the Mexican style rodeos he staged at his property. The difference between the two is that Marsh went to the county to request a special use permit and was granted one, to hold four rodeos a year. In multiple court rulings, judges came back to the fact Marsh had requested a permit, stating that act gave the county definite jurisdiction over the events. Brown on the other hand never approached the county, with an investigation taking place after a complaint was filed.
Brown was also concerned about going to the county to request a permit, saying that if they only allowed him four rodeos a year as they previously did with Marsh, it would significantly cut into his business.
The 30,000 sq. ft. arena, which operates as a tax-paying business, plays host each year to multiple events, with a website to help bring traffic and aid in the bookings. Since the county shut him down the first week of January, he’s lost 12 events booked for this year, Brown said, estimating he lost $20,000 from those cancellations. With the county attempting to enforce the zoning ordinance, Brown questions what that will do to his business moving forward, questioning why a county saying they need economic development would try to shut down his business.
“I don’t think the bookings will come back next year,” Brown said. “They’ll want to see a track record first, they’ll want to make sure the county’s not going to come in and shut it down. People can’t afford that, especially right now.”