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Rural outdoor wedding venue granted year-long permit

JOHNSON COUNTY– A popular outdoor wedding venue in rural Johnson County will be allowed to march on through 2013.
Mary Ellen Hill, owner of Gazebo on the Green, was granted a Conditional Use Permit to host 12 events in 2013 at her 33-acre prairie and flower garden business located south of Solon on Newport Road.
Hill has hosted garden tours, baby and bridal showers, wedding and receptions at the self-cultivated garden spot for more than 22 years, but came under scrutiny of the Johnson County Planning & Zoning department after residents in the rural neighborhood began to question acceptable practices carried out by home business owners in unincorporated areas of the county. Controversy sparked by a similar wedding venue business owned by Dick Schwab, and the subsequent examination of businesses like Hill’s, resulted in the county amending its zoning code to include a Special Events ordinance that allows applicants to annually apply for a multiple use permit and hold events under conditions set forth by the county.
The Johnson County Board of Adjustment approved Hill’s application for next year at the board’s Nov. 21 meeting. The board imposed the conditions that a maximum of 12 events may be held at Gazebo on the Green, and that Hill remove brush from a right-of-way to improve sight distance near her driveway.
Neighbor Frank Scanlon stood to speak in favor of Hill’s application.
“We’ve lived across Newport Road for 35 years now, and I can say that Mary Ellen has been the highest quality neighbor I ever could have expected,” Scanlon said. “Gazebo on the Green has brought great joy for us, particularly when I can listen to the wedding music as I work in the front yard.”
Board discussion was brief, the only glitch for Hill coming with the county requiring her to identify specific event dates a year in advance.
“Mary Ellen has expressed concern about being required to identify the dates ahead of time. This was discussed at the adoption time of this ordinance, and it was determined by the board of supervisors that it was best that for neighborhood and the county to know when events are being held. That’s why it’s required,” explained Johnson County Assistant Planning & Zoning director RJ Moore.
However, Moore added, there is an amendment process that will allow Hill to change dates with proper notice, or slide substitute clients into already-secured dates.
Hill countered that it doesn’t usually happen that way.
“Most people are planning six, eight, 12 months ahead,” Hill said. “That’s one of the problems with providing these dates ahead of time.”
The application was approved on a 3-0 vote, with board of adjustment members Bill Leefers and Dawn Terrell absent. Hill didn’t press the point.
After the meeting, Hill gave an audible sigh of relief that the application passed for the year ahead.
“I am glad they are giving me a little leeway on these dates, because it’s so set in stone originally. People actually pick their dates, and how can I know that a year ahead of time?” she posed.
But Hill is willing to work with the permit conditions that will keep the gates to Gazebo on the Green open, now and into the future.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a yearly thing,” Hill said of the application process. And the wedding parties will march on, “as long as the old girl keeps going,” she laughed.