CHINA — An application to convert a barn at 701 Neck Road into a commercial wedding venue has been sent back to the Planning Board by the Board of Appeals after the proposal was initially denied with a tie vote over concern about the impact that noise from an event center would have on the otherwise rural area bordered by China Lake.
Parris and Cathy Varney applied for a conditional use permit that would allow them to turn their barn into a commercial building, where people could host events, like weddings. The Planning Board voted 2-2 to reject the application after hearing from a number of concerned residents who live on the road at a public hearing for the proposal. The Varneys then submitted an appeal of the decision to the Board of Appeals through their lawyer, Matthew Evans, who called the Planning Board’s decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
The Varneys’ appeal application said that the denial of the permit was based on a misinterpretation of the ordinance. The appeal asserted that China doesn’t have an ordinance regarding noise and that the Planning Board had no standard to measure the noise by.
The application also asserted that Planning Board member James Wilkens violated the Varneys’ right to “receive a fair and unbiased review.” Wilkens is an abutter to the property on Neck Road and recused himself from the vote, but still engaged in discussion throughout the meetings about the application, according to the Varneys.
The decision from the Board of Appeals states that the Planning Board’s denial of the permit failed to meet the requirements of the ordinance, due to “lack of proper findings of fact.”
Anyone who wishes to appeal the decision to Superior Court has 45 days from Dec. 15 to do so.
The Planning Board will meet on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office to review the application once again.
The Varneys would hold events from June through September for a total of 96 hours per year. Events would be held on Fridays through Sundays, and they plan to hold four events per month. Events would finish by 11 p.m. and any music would be kept within the barn, they said during a Planning Board meeting, according to the minutes. The barn has the capacity to hold 150 people and a grassy field that would be used for parking has a capacity for 300 vehicles, although the Varneys said they would only allow 75. The guests would use portable toilets as bathrooms.
A public hearing on Oct. 11 drew a number of people opposed to the proposed commercial venue, many of whom lived in the area. A number of people were concerned not only with the noise a commercial venue could create, but also with the potential run-off issues from using a field as a parking area and the potential traffic hazards caused by the number of people coming to the dead-end road which is often used for walking, according to the meeting minutes. Residents also expressed concern over who would enforce rules if a party’s guests became too rowdy or drank too much.
While China does not have zoning restrictions, meaning that a business can be put anywhere in town, a number of residents at the meeting opposed the idea of putting a wedding and event venue in a residential and rural area.
Some residents said that while the business idea is a good one, the barn is simply in the wrong location.
On Oct. 25, the Planning Board read through the 15-point list of criteria everyone must pass to receive a conditional use permit from the town.
At this meeting, Parris Varney said they had hired a sound engineer to measure how the sound would travel from the barn, and that the peak-amplified noise would be 100 decibels or less, which decreased to 50 decibels on Neck Road, although the barn doors were closed at the time. The amplified music would stop at 9 p.m., he said.
The board did not vote on a motion saying that criterion five had not been met, according to the minutes. Criterion five concerns whether the proposed use of the property will have a “significant detrimental effect” on the enjoyment of abutting property as a result of noise, odor, glare or other reasons. Board member Milton Dudley pointed out that the board had no standard to measure the noise level against.
A motion that criterion five had been met failed with a vote of 1-3, with board member James Wilkens abstaining as his property abuts the Varneys’.
While board member Tom Miragliuolo said the changes the Varneys had made to the proposed hours of operation, among other things, were the right steps, the board couldn’t be sure that the changes would have swayed the public input it had already received.
While the application passed all other criteria, the board voted on a motion that the proposal failed because it didn’t meet criterion five. The vote was split 2-2, which the board decided should result in a failed application. It is not exactly clear from the minutes how that decision was made or if the board was following Robert’s Rules of Order, which says that a tie vote is a lost vote, meaning the application shouldn’t have been rejected.
Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239