Coweta Board of Commissioners
Vinewood Events facility granted a reprieve
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The Coweta County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to grant a special use permit for an events center that has been operating in violation of county ordinances since 2011.
The business can’t resume operating until several conditions are met, which means weddings planned for this weekend, and possibly in the future, will have to be canceled or postponed.
Conditions on the permit for Vinewood Events on Roscoe Road include correcting several flagrant fire code violations in the barn, correcting building code violations, expanding the septic tank drain field, installing a new entrance drive that lines up with Country Club Road, and installing a 50-foot vegetative buffer along the south property.
Several area residents spoke against the permit, with concerns about noise they can hear late into the night — even with doors shut, televisions on and air conditioning running, and traffic.
The commissioners approved a special events ordinance in June 2011.
Before then, there was no mechanism allowing special events centers in residentially-zoned areas. The one exception was for historic register properties, such as Dunaway Gardens.
Jamie McPherson began operating Vinewood in 2011 and pled ignorance when asked why he’d been operating in violation of county rules.
McPherson’s attorney, Sam Hensley, said Vinewood had been operating under a business license “that was issued before the new ordinance.” The license was renewed in 2012, but when McPherson went to renew it in 2013, he was told he needed to apply for the SUP for special events.
McPherson’s license was for a wedding planning business as a home occupation, said Zoning Administrator Angela White, not for an events center.
Several meetings were held during the debate over the special events ordinance, and McPherson attended at least one of them.
“Did you understand that the current license you have was for wedding planning?” asked Commissioner Tim Lassetter.
“I understood what that was for,” McPherson said. “I did not fully understand my own misunderstanding of the process … I did not understand that I was not to do anything on the property before then.”
The fire marshal visited the property on Feb. 11 and found several violations, including patio heaters used indoors, improper use of extension cords, inadequate emergency exits and wood chips on the floors.
On Feb. 15, Coweta Fire Marshal Jimmy Gantt issued McPherson a letter saying the facility didn’t meet minimum fire standards and that no events should be held there until a certificate of occupancy and business license are issued.
McPherson said he fixed some problems but couldn’t get permits for the other work without the SUP.
Lassetter asked if any events were held in the barn since the letter was issued.
“Yes. And we were cited for that,” McPherson said. Since then, all events have been held outdoors and no new events have been scheduled. He estimated all the needed work could be done in two weeks or so.
There was discussion of allowing the scheduled events to go forward as long as the barn isn’t used. McPherson also offered the possibility of accessing the property from his parents’ land next door instead of using the problematic driveway.
That driveway would have to be approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation, said White.
Area residents said there is typically a car accident a month in the area.
Lassetter and Commissioner Paul Poole want to require some form of flashing lights, and traffic control officers, on either side of the driveway.
Brenda Schloemer said she was watching a race on television Saturday that was extremely loud, and she could still hear noise from Vinewood. “It’s that way every weekend,” she said.
Two of the most forceful opponents at the public hearing were Jennifer Bigham and Josh Fisher of Dunaway Gardens, which also hosts weddings and events.
“Jamie McPherson knows you have to have a business license,” Bigham said. And, “the whole place is full of issues.”
McPherson also advertises High Meadows at Vinewood, which is described online as being adjacent to Vinewood.
High Meadows doesn’t have a special use permit either, and is not included in the current SUP.
“He knew when he booked these people he was not in compliance,” Bigham said. “So saying that he didn’t understand, I just don’t think is an adequate justification.”
“We have no problem with competition. We invite competition,” said Fisher. But “we want to compete against a business that is licensed.”
In regards to the noise, McPherson said his clients have to choose from a list of approved bands and DJ’s.
Poole said bands might not be able to use amplification to meet the sound limit of 45 dB at the property line.
The only person speaking in favor was Cindy Bruce, who makes wedding cakes. Vinewood brings economic benefits to local hotels, restaurants, and vendors like herself, she said. Bruce said the noise might have been louder lately because the barn could not be used.
Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn made a motion to approve the permit, once all the conditions are met. The vote was unanimous.