Commissioners deny permit for Buckeye Barn wedding venue

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Many opponents of a country wedding barn north of Hays showed up to voice their concerns at the regular meeting Monday evening of the Ellis County Commission in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

The Ellis County Commission on Monday evening denied a permit for Leann Zimmerman’s proposal to build a country wedding barn on her farmland north of Hays, but Zimmerman says she hasn’t given up.

“We’re very disappointed, but I think we’ll move forward in some manner,” Zimmerman said after a lengthy meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main. “That’s what I know at this point.”

“Absolutely” she and her husband, Jayme Zimmerman, will try to build the wedding barn “at the same location.”

Zimmerman was seeking a permit for a proposed 7,200-square-foot building to host 350 people on a 4-acre plot of land 6 miles north of town on Buckeye Road.

Neighbors within 5 miles of the proposed event center showed up at Monday’s regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission to oppose the wedding barn.

More than 20 property owners opposed the project on a petition circulated and presented by Sarah and Dustin Shubert, 18-year residents of 1660 Buckeye Road, who live a half-mile from the proposed facility.

“This is far from welcome out there,” said Sarah Shubert. "I went door to door; it's far from welcome with the residents living out there, as myself."

The neighbors, who don’t live within the 1,000-foot radius required by county law for notification, said they oppose the project for various reasons.

According to them, Ellis County has plenty of wedding venues already; it will bring heavy traffic to their rural homes; the traffic and potential drunk drivers will create an unsafe environment for their families and property; people attending the parties will pose a fire hazard from tossed cigarette butts; it poses danger to children playing at the nearby Buckeye School; it lacks plans for a sprinkler system in the building; and heavy commercial water usage could threaten the rural water supply to homes.

Neighbors said Buckeye Road already is heavily traveled by oilfield trucks and other heavy equipment.

Commissioners deny request

After more than an hour of discussion from all sides, the commissioners unanimously denied the request.

Commissioner Butch Schlyer said it was neither a building nor a safety issue, although it might attract drunks racing cars up and down Buckeye Road, and possibly even be a noise nuisance if there are concerts.

“The potential for a nuisance is there with this kind of a business, as perceived by those homeowners,” Schlyer said. “They’ve invested in their homesteads, they’ve invested in countryside living, they have a right to that tranquility and solitude. They definitely do. And I definitely want to protect that right.”

The other side

In defending the Buckeye Barn request, the Zimmermans noted that the surrounding land is agricultural and commercial, not residential. Jayme Zimmerman said he and other area farmers were unhappy years ago when people started buying lots for homes.

The Zimmermans pointed out that neighbors haven’t voiced concern about commercial businesses in the nearby Keith Werth building. Those companies, they said, at various times have included an oilfield service company, which handled hydrochloric acid and other hazardous materials, as well as a wireline company that handled regulated Class 1 explosives.

As for water concerns, Leann Zimmerman pointed out that the rural water district application doesn’t stipulate commercial or residential use but rather whether it’s for human or animal use. She said she has since clarified with the district her application is for commercial use and cited Werth’s commercial use.

She also said she’s following the direction of the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, which told her the building must comply with the state’s minimum codes. Ideas for ensuring commercial water needs and fire safety include building a holding tank, or a pond, and a fire-suppression wall.

“I’m doing what I’m told, so that No. 1 is the safety of our friends and our family, no matter where we’re at in whatever building,” said Zimmerman.

She said the facility would keep locals in the area to have their weddings, as well as create jobs and bring in non-local patrons to Ellis County restaurants and motels.

Saying she purchased the ground at public auction, Zimmerman said the neighbors could have bought the land if they’d wished to avoid commercial use.

Better location?

Commissioner Neal Younger sympathized with the residents, saying he has a commercial gymnasium across from his rural home in the Munjor area and that the trash from it is a nuisance. 

Younger asked Zimmerman to work with the neighbors to find a different location, possibly a half-mile north of the proposed one. Zimmerman agreed. 

When asked, however, Dustin and Sarah Shubert said later in the meeting that neighbors would still be opposed. 

“The people do not want it in the area,” Dustin Shubert said. “There’s gotta be a better location somewhere.”

In defending her request for a permit, Zimmerman cited the county’s three event centers at the Ellis County Fair Grounds west of town off Interstate 70 and the US-183 bypass.

“I just want the same chance that we have at the Schenk building that is out there in the country, that the commissioners are the ones who rule over that,” Zimmerman said. “As an individual I want that same chance in the country, to have a beautiful place to have weddings.”

Barn wedding facilities are few and far between in the area, with the nearest ones in Scott City, Newton and Salina, said Zimmerman and others.

Planning commission OK'd permit

The Ellis County Joint Planning Commission approved the permit at its Jan. 27 meeting after a public hearing where some neighbors spoke against the project.

David McDaniel, chairman of the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission, told the commissioners Monday evening that Zimmerman correctly followed all the required steps in applying for the permit.

“We found no reason not to approve this,” McDaniel told the county commissioners.

Schlyer, however, challenged the Joint Planning and Zoning Commission’s thoroughness in reviewing the application.

Citing the planning commission’s own list of requirements for approval, Schlyer ticked off each of 11 requirements, indicating with a comment on each that they hadn’t been addressed to his satisfaction.

He cited a conflict with the residential land use; an undue burden on transportation, resources and service facilities; debate over whether there’s a shortage of such facilities; whether it conforms and would enhance the implementation of the county’s comprehensive plan; and how it benefits the public’s health, safety and welfare.

“I’m sure it complies with the conditions on which the approval is made, but it’s going to interfere with homeowners,” Schlyer said. “So there’s a lot of issues here to be concerned with.”

What’s next

After the meeting, Leann Zimmerman said she expects to file a new request soon with the planning commission.

“According to the Ellis County laws, you can wait one year for the same location," she said, "or you can have it near that location and you can do it right away again.”

How near?

“One foot,” she said. “You have that right.

“It’s an event center. I’ve had so many people that want weddings, want a beautiful place to get married in, that it’s something that’s needed around here. It’s been on my bucket list a very long time to do this. I know other people that have done it, and it’s just something that I’ve wanted to do.”