The Camden County Commission is considering waiving or discounting permit fees in the zoning case of a local business in the midst of developing a winery at the end of the Big Niangua Arm of the Lake Ozarks.
Ward and Barb Morris, owners of Sugarloaf Winery, went public in July with complaints about how Camden County Planning & Zoning was handling their project.
The couple started the process to get zoning of their property in line with their intended use over three years ago.
At that time, former P&Z administrator Chris Hall gave them guidelines to compliance, and the pair got underway on the process.
Soon they successfully had their land rezoned from single family residential (R-1) to agricultural (A-1) in order to open a winery.
But then in June 2011, Hall unexpectedly quit and was replaced with the current P&Z administrator, Don Hathaway, in August 2011.
After receiving some complaints about the use of the property following the business opening in May, Hathaway says he found that the wine-making aspect of the business at this location was still developing — grape vines and wine-making commonly take time to develop — but Sugarloaf had in the meantime built an outdoor entertainment venue with a small restaurant and bar counter. There were also two houses being used for nightly transient rentals as well as canoe rentals. A sign on an adjacent R-1 lot advertises the commercial uses next door.
While a straight winery is a principal permitted use in A-1, the commercial uses that go along with some wineries — sale of alcohol, outdoor music and other entertainment — are conditional uses and require a permit, says Hathaway. Being used for commercial purposes also made the accessory structures to the winery non-conforming.
According to Hathaway, the problems stem from items not addressed during the rezoning case prior to his tenure with the county. The Sugarloaf Winery property was rezoned without submitting a site development plan which, he says, likely contributed to how the project moved forward even though it was inconsistent with the zoning code.
Since Hathaway took over, according to Ward Morris, they have had to evict families from rental homes, work toward vacating a road and possibly adding a cul-de-sac, pay extra permit fees than what was required with the former administration and pay thousands of dollars in unneeded legal fees.
With no documentation on the case left behind by the previous P&Z administrator and all communications being verbal, Camden County Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken says the county has been left with no way of knowing exactly what Hall told the couple, though what the Morris's say seems to be consistent with how Hall typically handled things.
Page 2 of 2 - It is due to the confusion left by the previous administrator that the county commission is considering reducing the fees required for the permits needed to bring the project into compliance, Franken says.
Two actions remain to bring the the Morris's properties into compliance with the Unified Land Use Code, according to Franken.
A conditional use permit is needed for the commercial activities at the winery along with a special use permit for the commercial sign on the adjacent residential property.
The fee to apply for a conditional use permit with the county planning commission is $600. A special use permit application with the board of adjustment is $500.
According to Franken, the county commission is considering waiving one of the fees and possibly discounting the other.
The issue was up for discussion at a recent meeting, but was tabled to get further legal counsel on the proposed action.
Associate Commissioner Cliff Luber says he just wants to make sure the commission is acting consistently, and that if they waive a fee for Sugarloaf Winery, they don't have to waive fees for everyone.
Though he believes personally that the county needs to do something to right the situation, Luber questioned what kind of precedent they were setting.
He expressed concerns about Franken unilaterally negotiating issues and waiving fees without a vote of the commission.
Franken expected the issue to return to the county commission's agenda in one-two weeks, at which time a vote is expected.
That vote will set the cost of the fees for the Morris's so that they can then make application for the permits and move forward.