July 9, 2013

Big barn gets OK for events

Rachel Brown

— Jimmie K. Mason Jr. got the “good to go” sign from county officials Monday night to open his big wooden barn for events such as weddings, proms and church events.

After a public hearing and discussion that lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners in a 4-0 vote granted a special use permit for Mason to operate the 11,000-square-foot barn as an event center for up to 299 people.

The property is on Colonial Way, a private road off of Riverbend Road, and is zoned agriculture. Mason’s 77.62 acres of property includes a working cattle farm.

“I’m pleased,” Mason said. “I’m excited.”

Commissioners approved the measure over the objection of several of Mason’s neighbors. One person said he had no problem with the event center while three others voiced concerns about road safety or other issues.

James Pritchett, who lives on Riverbend Road, said he’s concerned about people driving from the property drunk and causing problems.

“My major concern would be safety on the road,” he said.

During a public hearing before the Dalton-Whitfield County Planning Commission on June 26, commission members recommended the Board of Commissioners grant Mason’s special use request as long as he widens the entrance of Colonial Way to 40 feet so it is wide enough for two cars to pass, events end by 1 a.m., and he complies with any additional local, state and federal regulations for group assembly and the environment. Commissioners approved those stipulations.

Neighbor Tim Thomason said he and Mason are in court over who owns the area where Mason is proposing to widen the road. Thomason said Colonial Way actually belongs to him and that Mason doesn’t have the legal right to widen it, but commissioners said that’s a matter for the court to decide and that their decision was made with the assumption Mason has lawful use of the property.

Thomason said he wasn’t opposed to the event center, but he’s concerned about traffic on Riverbend Road.

“I’m afraid there will be blood on the road,” he said.

Mason said he has started preparations for widening Colonial Way but has had to postpone some of the work because of the rains. He and his wife, Tammy, are getting ready to market the center for business.

Commissioner Lynn Laughter initially suggested making an exception to the 1 a.m. curfew so Boy Scout groups could stay overnight if they wanted to use the land — a scenario Mason had asked about. She withdrew the suggestion after County Attorney Robert Smalley said Mason could still allow groups to use his property for free without permission from commissioners.