Zoning board OKs Sugar Spring pavilion, with restrictions

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Pictured is the pavilion on the Sugar Spring Ranch property temporarily approved for wedding ceremonies.

Owners of a rural Columbia wedding venue recently destroyed by fire approached the Monroe County Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday night to ask that ceremonies and receptions be allowed at an outdoor pavilion on the property.

At the end of many public comments, the board granted half of this request.

The board decided that Sugar Spring Ranch owners Greg and Melinda Meyer can only host wedding ceremonies on the property for six months, but not receptions. They also specified music cannot be played over speakers and reception tents may not be set up.

This decision came after many concerned neighbors addressed the board regarding noise the venue generates, and after Monroe County Assistant State’s Attorney Tim Stubblefield said if the board ruled Sugar Spring Ranch could host receptions, legal concerns could be raised.

On May 30, several area departments assisted Columbia in responding to a fully involved structure fire at the newly opened venue located at 1385 Centerville Road. The 8,000-square-foot barn was fully ablaze upon firefighter arrival about 6:40 a.m. The structure, which burned completely to the ground, was not occupied during the incident. A wedding reception had taken place there earlier that evening.

Stubblefield said the couple’s petition to amend their special use exception specified they wished to use the pavilion for ceremonies, but did not mention receptions. Based on this petition and corresponding letter of intent, the zoning board notified the public that the Meyers’ request was only to use the space for ceremonies. Stubblefield said it could be argued the public was not given enough notice of what the Meyers’ were asking the board Wednesday night.

Some community members, mostly the venue’s neighbors, said Sugar Spring Ranch generated excessive noise – even though the original special use permit granted last year only permitted music inside the barn. Zoning board member Vicki Taake said she knew of two noise complaints regarding the property, one being from the night before the fire. However, this was contested as there was reportedly another party that night, so there was no way of knowing if the venue or another party caused the complaint.

Nick Meyer, son of the Sugar Spring Ranch owners, said that on April 22, there was a noise complaint from likely a neighbor.

“The building was unoccupied at the time and a police officer was sent to the location that night,” he said. “We are only aware of that from monitoring the scanner for the towing company.”

Many expressed concern that without an enclosed structure, allowing weddings and receptions to continue would cause greater disruption. Lori Johnson, who lives less than a mile away from the venue, said she did not call the police regarding the noise and others told her they heard noise from the venue as well.

“This venue originally went in against the overwhelming opposition of (the surrounding) neighborhood, and we were concerned about a number of issues, and one of them was noise,” Johnson told the board. “I am one of the people who heard noise the night before the fire … Until 11 at night at my house I could hear the bass thumping from their music. That was when the barn was intact and enclosed, so if this is allowed, we have serious concerns about perhaps what the owners can think of as normal noise is not acceptable to those of us who have lived (in the area) for many years and invested what we hoped to be a quiet property.”

Greg Meyer asked the board to consider the barn had a “nightlife quality” sound system, while the pavilion would only be equipped with a mere speaker. He estimated the speaker would generate “less sound than a pool party.”

Some community members also addressed potential safety concerns surrounding the origins of the fire. As the Republic-Times previously reported, Sugar Spring Ranch did not fully have its sprinkler system installed prior to the devastating fire, with Greg Meyer saying it was nearly complete. Because it was yet completed, the county agreed the Columbia Fire Department would be present while guests were there. The fire occurred hours after the last guest left, and therefore after fire personnel left, zoning administrator Chris Voelker explained.

Earlier in the hearing, Taake asked the Meyers if they wanted to hold ceremonies, receptions or both at the pavilion. Greg Meyer said they see a need to host receptions as well, as they were having problems finding alternative wedding spaces for couples who booked the ranch in the fall months.

Others in the wedding business who have worked with Sugar Spring Ranch, including a photographer and Katheryn Hunt, GROW Marketing Agency Founder and CEO, said there is a shortage of wedding venues, making it very difficult – if not impossible – for couples who booked with them to find alternative venues.

“You can … look at reception halls around here in October, there will be no availability,” Sugar Spring Ranch venue coordinator Ashley Meyer said after the board’s decision. “So, it’s kind of disheartening to hear that these brides might still have to postpone their wedding again for a second time.”

The Illinois State Fire Marshal is investigating a cause of the blaze, which continued to burn for about a week. Columbia Fire Chief Roediger would not speculate on its cause due to the massive amount of damage.

The Meyers had Midwest Fire Consulting Group assess the fire damage, yet they were not able to draw an official conclusion as to a cause of the fire, Greg Meyer said. Because of an ongoing investigation, the Meyers did not get an OK to clear the rubble until last Thursday afternoon. Greg Meyer said that as of now, 70 percent of the damaged barn has been cleared.

Ashley Meyer said during Wednesday’s hearing that they have approximately seven couples who are wanting to use the Sugar Spring Ranch pavilion for their October weddings. Greg Meyer later stressed to the Republic-Times that they are hoping to have the barn up and running by this fall, so asking for an amendment to their special use permit was just in case they could not meet this goal.

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