Another public hearing was held Thursday, March 29th in the Legislative Center of DeKalb County concerning an amendment to the Special Use Permit held by Stonehouse Park in rural Southern DeKalb County. About 40 people, mostly neighbors, attended the public hearing, requiring extra seating to be brought in.
After the first public hearing on this issue February 9th, it was sent to the Planning and Zoning Committee with a recommendation from hearing officer Ron Klein to accept the amended Special Use Permit with conditions, including a capacity limit of 500 people. The Committee sent it back for another public hearing for more information when the owners of the park stated they could not operate their business plan with a capacity that low.
Owners of Stonehouse Park, Gregg Larson and Steve Cecchin opened the public hearing with a presentation comparing the park to the Sandwich Fairgrounds. Hearing officer Klein rejected the comparison stating that the Fairground is much bigger and better organized, doesn’t hold music festivals and also does not allow alcohol on the premises.
Larson and Cecchin asked that the alcohol issue be removed from their special use permit as that issue needs to be settled by the Township and County and that the park would follow whatever decision was made. It has recently been brought to the County’s attention that Paw Paw Township is a ‘dry’ township, prohibiting any alcohol sales whatsoever.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Gary Dumdie spoke to clarify that while they have met with the owners of Stonehouse Park, the owners have not followed through with the recommendations sent to them after that meeting by DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott, including notifying the Sheriff’s office of upcoming events and specifying festival rules on their website. Dumdie stated that Stonehouse Park used a lot of the Sheriff’s Department’s resources last year, requiring them to have to bring in extra manpower each time the park had a music festival.
Neighbors spoke of their concerns about how the park was run in the past couple of years. Complaints were made over loud music played all night, fire code violations, lack of control, festival goers getting lost and ending up on neighbors farms and bringing an ‘undesirable crowd’ to the quiet rural area. Neighbors to the park stated that despite having discussed these issues with the owners of Stonehouse Park and the owners promising changes, none were forthcoming to date. Neighbors were also concerned about under capitalization issues as the park’s loan has been called in and they have been unable, so far, to secure new financing.
Larson and Cecchin acknowledged the fact that mistakes were made but requested the ability to show that they had made changes to their operation to address the neighbors’ concerns. They stated that they were not allowing the Stompkee and Peace Fest festivals back to the park as those were the two festivals that caused the most problems for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department. In response to the neighbors’ complaining about festival websites showing music still planned for after midnight this coming year, the owners stated that music after midnight would be inside a barn and would not be amplified. Both Klein and Zoning Administrator Paul Miller pointed out that no music was to be held after midnight and the using of the barn without an occupancy permit was in direct violation of their permit.
Owners Larson and Cecchin had previously stated that they had talked to all the neighbors within a 2 mile radius of the park. When confronted with a petition signed by 19 neighbors within that 2 mile radius that stated they had not talked to the owners, Larson and Cecchin stated that they didn’t mean that they talked to the neighbors about the zoning changes, but just that they had met those neighbors over time. A petition was also presented signed by more than 200 neighbors of the park stating that they did not want the park to offer large music festivals in their neighborhood.
Confusion existed over just how large of capacity the owners were requesting since numbers up to 5,000 people were mentioned. Sheriff Roger Scott spoke up when the owners specified that they were requesting a 4,000 person capacity stating that that number was unreasonable and would not work. At that point Larson and Cecchin reduced their request to a 2,000 person capacity.
Hearing Officer Klien stated that he would review the information and make revised recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Committee. Those recommendations would include adding restrictions such as no music after midnight and no use of any of the building structures, especially the house and barns, until occupancy permits had been obtained. The issue will be in front of the Planning and Zoning Committee again on April 25th at 7pm and if forwarded on to the entire County Board, that meeting will be held on May 16th, 2012, at 7:30pm.
Editors Note: Grace Mott was an owner of Stone House Park from 1990 -2000.
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