The Kennebec County Superior Court has dismissed the appeals filed in the case of a barn on Neck Road in China, sending the contentious issue back to the Planning Board once again.

The decision came on Oct. 30, months after the appeals from both sides of the neighborhood dispute were filed in January. Both parties filed 80B appeals, which ask for a review of governmental actions that are final decisions. In the discussion of the court’s decision, it says that this was not the final decision, as the case was remanded back to the Planning Board, and that the case is not extreme enough to warrant an exception.

The case began in September 2016, when Parris and Cathy Varney applied for a conditional use permit from the Planning Board so they could use their barn at 701 Neck Road as a commercial venue to host weddings and parties.

A number of neighbors opposing the idea spoke at the public hearing for the application, citing concerns over noise and subsequent quality of life in the area among other things. The Planning Board denied the permit, 2-2, citing the criteria that the proposed use cannot “have a significant detrimental effect on the use and peaceful enjoyment” of nearby property due to noise, smell or other things.

The Varneys appealed this decision to the town’s Board of Appeals in November 2016, which remanded the case to the Planning Board, saying it had reached its decision arbitrarily and had failed to produce “findings of fact” explaining why the findings were made.

On Jan. 10, 2017, a group of residents identified in the court appeal as “the Wilkens Party,” filed an appeal of the town appeals board decision to remand the case back to the Planning Board. The group included James and Sheri Wilkens, both members of various committees in China and neighbors who live across the street from the Varneys. They asked the court to reverse the appeals board’s findings and affirm the Planning Board’s denial.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the Varneys filed an appeal of the appeals board decision as well, seeking a court order to not only send the application back to the Planning Board, but also to direct them to approve the application.

Cathy Varney said that she is glad the case is going back to the Planning Board, and that she hopes they will get a permit and move on with the issue.

While waiting for the appeals process to play out in court, the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association claimed that the Varneys were still using the property to hold commercial events. Some members of the association were also involved in the court appeal, but the organization itself was not.

The association filed an appeal with the town against the code enforcement officer, who they said should be taking action to shut the Varneys’ events down.

Cathy Varney said they have held a number of events, including five weddings, for people the couple know, such as former customers or employees, for free. The events have gone on without issue, she said, and there have been no accidents or police reports.

“We absolutely did not” take money, she said. “People don’t understand it’s O.K. to do things for nothing.”

The code enforcement officer, Paul Mitnik, told the neighbors he can’t make the Varneys stop hosting parties if it can’t be proved that money is changing hands, which is what would make it commercial and thus illegal by town law.

The town appeals board sided with the neighborhood association, saying that because plumbing was put into the barn years ago by the former owner, it was already set up to be a commercial structure and should be permitted as such.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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