Request for special events venue nixed by Paw Paw Twp. Board

By: 
Paul Garrod-news4garrod@vineyardpress.biz

    PAW PAW - A special use permit  sought by a Paw Paw Township couple to make their barn and grounds into a wedding and special events site, was turned down Monday night by the Paw Paw Township Board.
    Kristen and Michael Ely, of 53488 42nd St., Paw Paw, sought  in a two-phase project, to  rent out a 180-foot-by-40-foot barn. Phase 1 calls for an open-air tent  to be used for  the  special events while the barn was under renovation.
    Kristen Ely said the events  would primarily be held on Saturday, but would also offer dates on Fridays and Saturday from April to October.
    The Elys were represented by Attorney Brian Knotek, who  told the board and the more than 50 area residents who attended the nearly three hour portion of the meeting, “This is their livelihood. They’re going to have to do  whatever it takes to comply.”
    Approximately a year ago,  the Elys decided to pursue this business venture. “We looked at this property and fell in love with the land and its potential,”  said Kristin, a wedding photographer.
    One area resident told the  board, “I haven’t been advocating for  the venue,  but have not been misrepresenting the  facts.”
    Another resident said of the project, “It’s inconceivable to me. This is not a one-time thing.
    Another questioned  the project, saying, “The concept that we could live four miles from Paw Paw and allow a commercial venue next door?”
    Still, others who spoke out in favor of the project.
    “What a great idea,” one resident said. “I couldn’t imagine a  more beautiful area to do it. I am for it. We need to keep our dollars in the town and not go elsewhere.”
    Steve Rigoni, who lives  a half-mile  west of the site, told the board and audience, “The zoning is there to protect us. The traffic is  in no way going to benefit us.”
    One resident spoke of the change that would come to the area. “Once this is full swing, if you approve it, you’ll be destroying the peace and tranquility of the area.”
    Resident Tania Sheely said, “It is a concern when it comes to noise. It’s something really difficult to  control.”
    Michael Davis, who lives directly north of the Ely residence said, “Peace and quiet is gone if this venue is passed.”
    Davis stressed to the board, “I want you to make your decision  as though  your home was next door to this venue.”
    Another resident, Joe Muvrin said, “We are not taking  something away from them. Period. But we are taking something away from the people around them. I am so terribly opposed to it. Voting no doesn’t take anything away from anyone. Voting yes, does.”
    Another resident  spoke out in favor.  “It would not take anything away from the  community. Consider what the community is  going to be like in the future -five to 10 years down the road. I think it is going to benefit the whole community.”
    Michael Ely told the board and those gathered, “Why would we want to jeopardize pushing people out? We decided to bring that farm back to life. We didn’t have to, we chose to.”
    Another  favorable  comment about the project came from Deb Buskirk,  who  said, “I do understand what they’re  trying to do, because I have lived it. They’re not going to destroy -
They’re going to preserve it,” said Buskirk.
    Attorney Knotek compared the  Ely  project to  Engel Farms, another wedding barn venue, located north of Lawrence.  “They both  have a lot of similarities,” said Knotek.
    He said Engel Farms operated without a specialized use permit for two years. It had no project  site plans or drawing.  There was concern for traffic, noise and safety.
    As it was granted a special use permit by Arlington Township, Knotek said the noise and traffic complaints have ceased.
    “The special use permit allowed the township to get it under control,” said Knotek. “I anticipate the  first year is going to be the most difficult year.”
    Paw Paw Township Supervisor Donald Stull told  Knotek,  “I lived through the Roadhouse era,” referring to the township’s experience when the Roadhouse Grill on Red Arrow Highway in Paw Paw Township began offering outdoor music. “It was horrible.”
    Stull said, “I am having a hard time with the open-air tent venue. I support the zoning ordinance text  amendment for special events and agree with the positive impact that it will have on the Paw Paw area with agritourism. I feel this is one way to slow down, or in some cases, stop, the buy-up of farm land by large corporations.
    “But, I also know what I’ve been told by other township and zoning enforcement officials. Their  advice was very clear and consistent - get it right from the beginning or there will be problems. I don’t believe the proposed venue being held in a tent will be satisfactory to noise control; so, I don’t support this special use permit at this time.”
    

 

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