Text amendment would address right of rodeos
A proposed text amendment could solve the county’s zoning problems with Cross Creek Arena. County commission vice chair Todd Johnson put forth the idea during the board’s Monday, Sept. 19 meeting, calling for the planning board to put together an amendment, which would allow rodeos to operate in the county without interference.
“We’ve had a lot of questions raised about some issues and this board has been faced with the question of rodeos and agritourism’s place in Union County,” Johnson said. “Property rights are important to me and a man or woman’s right to hold a rodeo on his or her property can become a question of property rights.”
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. Once state lawmakers addressed that issue, the county also cited Brown for failing to request a conditional use permit for each of his rodeos.
The motion on Monday doesn’t immediately solve the issue, as a text amendment would first have to be voted on by the planning board and then come before the commission. Still, commissioners said it was a start.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” commissioner Tracy Kuehler said. “As opposed to what we’ve been doing, which is nothing.”
One of Brown’s complaints over the last eight months has been the county’s inaction except to shut him down. Speaking during public comments Monday night, Brown said he had tried to do everything requested, but he never got answers to his questions, such as what classifies as a conditional use and how many permits he could obtain for his business.
“(The county) wants to know what I want,” Brown said. “I didn’t start this, so my question is what do you want?”
He asked commissioners why county attorney Ligon Bundy sent him a letter asking him to provide documentation that Cross Creek Arena was in the farm program, instead of the zoning administrator. He also asked why the county believes his operation falls under their control.
“How does the use of my arena affect public health or safety?” Brown asked. “I’ve been shut down. I have to take the position that I don’t recognize your authority in this matter.”
As a compromise, Johnson proposed the text amendment, giving Brown the ability to operate his facility without conforming to commercial standards.
Kuehler questioned if the text amendment was needed, asking if the county even had the authority to regulate Brown at all.
“I’ve listened to Mr. Brown and Mr. Marsh and what needs to be clarified is if we have any zoning (authority) over them at all,” Kuehler said.
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 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 only taking place after an anonymous complaint was filed. Marsh lost in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Farms out of zoning jurisdiction
A bill that became law in this year’s session of the General Assembly, HB168, specifically says what it takes to be considered a working or “bonafide” farm. Such farms are exempt from county zoning ordinances, according state officials. “A ‘bonafide farm’ is generally exempt from county zoning and certain aspects of building code enforcement,” North Carolina School of Government official Rich Ducker wrote in an Aug. 17 letter. Horse farms qualify for the exemption, Ducker wrote. He stated that “an agricultural activity pursued purely for pleasure, like raising horses, rather than for profit would still qualify and so too would related incidental activities.”
In order to classify as a farm, a property owner has to show one of five things; a farm sales tax exemption certificate issued by the Department of Revenue, a copy of the property tax listing, a copy of the farm owner’s most recent federal income tax return, a forest management plan or a Farm Identification Number issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It takes away the rhetoric,” commissioner Jonathan Thomas said of the proposed amendment.