Residents voice concerns over proposed bed and breakfast, event space

By Melanie Boyung - Special to the News Graphic

Jan. 14, 2020

TOWN OF GRAFTON — Golden Belles’ proposed bed and breakfast and event space is stalling in the Town of Grafton, as neighbors came out in numbers Wednesday concerned about what the business would do to their neighborhood.

Kira Behrens came to the Town of Grafton Plan Commission meeting Wednesday requesting a permit to turn her farmstead at 1235 E. Sauk Road into a residential business. The Plan Commission, after two full hours of public comment and discussion, voted to table the matter until next month. Behrens was advised to meet with town planning staff to go over her application, and either scale some things back or come up with specific limitations on the large events many neighbors were adamantly opposed to. “We don’t want to micromanage, but we want to have reasonable boundaries where you can test out what you want to do,” Town Chairman and Plan Commission Chair Lester Bartel said.

Behrens is seeking to run an organic farm — which is allowed by right on the agricultural-zoned property — and to use the property for hosting events, as well as a bed and breakfast aspect out of the five-bedroom home. The bed and breakfast and event space require a permit because such business uses are allowed only conditionally on an agricultural property.

The farm would sell its produce through a farm stand Behrens plans to build on the site, and possibly supply local restaurants or sell at farmers markets. One of the events Behrens mentioned that she hopes to host on her property is farm-to-table dinners with 40 to 50 people in the garden.

“I commend you for taking a shot at this, and trying to save this farm, and do something commercial with it,” Plan Commissioner Dan Vogel said.

Behrens’ plans for the property include many improvements to the sites, as well as additions and changes to the various buildings. Documents she submitted to the town for her permit application indicated various sizes of events that could be held, with up to four total each week. Event sizes ran from fewer than 15 people to up to 150 people or more.

“That’s my biggest concern,” said neighborhood resident Steve Betts of large events. “Because we’ve all been through it before. It was loud, it was bright and there were cars burning in and out of there.”

Betts was referring to a family wedding held on the property by the previous owners, which was mentioned by several residents. There were also several mentions of loud music and sound coming from the farm in the last week, and they said the noise was incredibly loud and unacceptable.

“I don’t have any issue with the agricultural use … or the bed and breakfast. … (But) with the frequency of events planned, there won’t be much chance for peace and quiet on East Sauk Road,” said resident Greg Ebert.

Behrens clarified that the recent noise was a sound test; the loudest noise neighbors heard was much more than the volume level she selected as a maximum. She told the commission that a sound technician performed the test and calculations, so that the maximum volume she intended on the property, heard from the distance of neighbors’ homes, was roughly the same decibel range as a refrigerator.

“Will you hear music (with events)? Of course you will, but it’s at the same noise level as the ambient noise you’re already hearing,” Behrens said.

Behrens specified during discussion with the Plan Commission that she is not planning many large-scale events. For the immediate future, there would not be any more than 100 people in the barn, because code requires she install fire safety and sprinkler systems to hold events that large. Behrens said many events would be small. She has a background in business, working with various types of executives, and many events would be only a few people attending for business workshops or strategic planning sessions she would host.

Larger events were in her proposal because she has been approached by friends, contacts and nonprofits about hosting larger events on occasion, and she did not want to preclude those possibilities.

“I was encouraged (when making the application) to put in everything I might do in the next two years,” Behrens said. “I’m still trying to be a farmer. I also know you can’t make a living growing organic produce.”

While most of the residents who attended the public hearing voiced no concern over the farming and bed and breakfast, about 10 people spoke publicly against large events, and the noise, traffic and light pollution such events would cause. Some also spoke about how weddings and similar events could lead to drunk people driving down their road and wandering around their properties. Behrens told the commission she was happy to work with the neighbors’ concerns, adding fencing, doing light studies and other items to make sure events on her property were not a disturbance, but she did not want to incur great expense before she had permit approval, and knew she would be able to move forward.

The Plan Commission is expected to take up her application again in February. Bartel said that in the coming weeks, whenever a revised version of the Golden Belles permit application was completed, the town could make it available for residents to review.