A months-long debate between Clermont neighbors over a farm becoming an event venue was decided by the Hall County Board of Commissioners Thursday, with commissioners approving the venue but urging its owners to be considerate of other residents.
Michelle Gibbs, the applicant, can now host events such as weddings or receptions at LL Farm, the 28,500-square-foot barn at 5586 Ransom Free Road in Clermont.
The request drew much opposition from neighbors. And as she prepared to make a motion for approval, Commissioner Shelly Echols, whose district includes the property, addressed the crowd, saying some behavior she had seen had been “unbecoming.”
“The personal, untruthful and hateful attacks — those have to stop. It’s ridiculous,” Echols said. “We’re better than this. Like it or not, the Gibbses are your neighbors. I’ve always bragged that Clermont is the sweetest little town with the best people around, but right now, you’re not acting like it.”
Echols also encouraged the property owners, telling them to ensure that events at the farm did not disturb neighbors.
“It’s your responsibility to be a good neighbor. You have the ability to control what happens in that barn, and I expect you to do that,” Echols said. “I expect you to do all you can to restrict your clients and their activities to ensure that your neighbors are not burdened by your use of the barn.”
To address neighbors’ safety concerns, Echols proposed restricted hours for the venue — during the Hall County school year, the venue will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. If it is a weeknight before a school holiday or if school is not in session, the venue can be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Also, Echols added the condition that every year, the Board of Commissioners needs to vote on renewal of the business license — “If you’re not a good neighbor, if you’re terrorizing the neighborhood, if there are citations issued, we’re not going to renew your business license,” she said.
Commissioner Jeff Stowe was the only opposing vote Thursday. Commissioner Billy Powell was absent, and all other commissioners supported the request.
Residents on nearby properties had spoken at Thursday’s meeting and previous hearings, telling officials that traffic and noise from the venue would be a disturbance and a safety concern.
Beth Powers said Thursday that Ransom Free Road could not handle the traffic an event venue would bring, especially with bikers and pedestrians in the area.
“It is my prayer that if this venue is allowed to operate in our community, nothing happens to our children, because this community would be forever devastated,” Powers said.
Joseph French, who lives on a neighboring property, said he had found trash after previous events at the barn and been affected by the loud music.
“I just can’t see how anybody could consider that this barn, being so close to somebody’s residence, and approve this,” he said.
But Sam Bagwell, the Gibbses’ attorney, said the only change would be permitting the Gibbses to charge clients to hold events at the property.
“The barn is already there. The barn was there when they bought it,” Bagwell said. “… Having events and gatherings at the barn is already permitted. All of these things are already in place. The only thing that is not in place is the ability to charge for it.”
Paul Lynch of dB Integrations presented the results of a noise study at the property and told commissioners that music from the barn was at a relatively low volume at the property lines.
“With the doors closed, the sound at most fence lines was into the background noise,” Lynch said.
The barn has held events in the past. In 2013, an event business at the barn was shut down after an anonymous complaint to the Hall County Marshal’s Office. Later that year, commissioners denied a request to rezone the property to planned commercial development.
Gibbs’ most recent request was approved by the Hall County Planning Commission in June, but commissioners did not vote on the application because it was found to be incomplete. David Gibbs, Michelle Gibbs’ husband and the other property owner, needed to disclose a campaign contribution to Echols. Then in July, Michelle Gibbs withdrew the request.
The proposal approved Thursday was slightly different from the previous one, with another parcel added to increase the property size to 9.25 acres from the original 4.6 acres.
Although Stowe ended up voting against the request, he addressed Clermont residents Thursday, saying he can relate — he lives near the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County.
“I’ve never heard a peep out of that building. … I’ve lived near it. If it’s done properly, it can be a good neighbor,” Stowe said.