Story by Judy Maxwell
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
A Rutledge woman who wants to reopen the former Cowboys restaurant along Hwy. 278, might open a whole new area of commercial development for Morgan County.
Angela Clark, 55, of Rutledge wants to open the restaurant and its adjacent arena as a venture that county planners are calling an “event facility.”
It’s a new term for county planners, and one that could be problematic for existing ventures, said one planning commission member.
Clark, a certified behavioral health counselor for ASFC Therapeutic Counseling Services in Covington, told the Citizen she did not really think of her proposed enterprise in those terms, but she is happy the planning commission is seriously considering revising the code of ordinances to include such commercial ventures. “The county is growing, and this is a positive step,” she said.
Some planning commission members are not so certain about that, fearing too much regulation would cripple existing businesses such as farm festivals, bed and breakfast inns and wedding-reception venues.
Clark wants to reopen the restaurant and use the adjacent arena to hold rodeos and other equestrian events, as well as antique car shows and other family entertainment activities.
She has applied for a pouring license as she plans to sell beer and wine at the restaurant. She noted the enterprise will not be focused on alcohol as a main draw, but rather on “good food” and good family fun. However, she said, if “a man wants a beer at the end of the day” she wants to be able to offer that option. But, she stressed, children will not be exposed to a bar-like atmosphere.
The Rutledge resident has 12 horses of her own, and she wants to blend the skill and fun of horseback riding with her work as a counselor to troubled youth. “I want them to learn to compete in a friendly way rather than getting angry,” she said, adding another goal of the business would be to offer young people affordable riding events. Clark said many kids who would greatly benefit from interacting with a horse, whether it be grooming or riding, come from families of low- to moderate incomes. “They want to learn new things such as riding, but they don’t know where to go and their parents can’t afford to take them anywhere,” she said.
“I want to get kids off the street,” she said, adding “horses tend to bring out the best in people.”
ASFC Therapeutic Counseling Services also counsels a significant number of military veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress and social re-orientation after serving in overseas war zones. “These people were willing to give their lives for their country and community, and we want to reach back and help them.”
Calling herself, “a country girl,” Clark said she drives by the abandoned Cowboy site often and has long wondered if she could turn it into something useful. Clark said the riding school and event arena would go beyond offering a place of refuge for at-risk adolescents and be open to adults and other youngsters as well. “We are hoping to bring property values up … and jobs to Morgan County,” Clark wrote to the commission.
Her entrepreneurial spirit has had an impact on county planners and developers. Tara Cooner, project officer with the county planning department, introduced a proposed revision to the county’s zoning ordinance that would include “event facilities” and related regulations for permitted and conditional uses in a commercial district. The proposed text amendment includes a list of events that would be allowed in such a district as well as those that would be prohibited. The zoning classifications proposed to support event facilities include agricultural (AG), agricultural residential (AR), neighborhood commercial (C1), general commercial (C2) and lakeshore marina (LM). The commission members agreed to strike lakeshore park (LP) from the permitted categories. Cowboys’ property is zoned C1.
Cooner and chief planner Chuck Jarrell told the commission Clark is not the only person who has proposed a large-event venue for the county, noting they’ve had a recent inquiry regarding an amphitheater.
“Due to the noise and excessive traffic that could be generated from such facilities, residential zoning classifications are not appropriate…,” said the written staff comments. “In researching event facilities and the types of events which could be hosted at such a facility, a list of possible events was created along with a list of events that would be prohibited. Regulations include stipulations for lot size, security, medical staff, lighting, parking, noise, food and alcohol and signs.”
Planning commission members spent about an hour at a work session Friday morning discussing the eight proposed revisions and the impact they would have on future and existing businesses. A major sticking point was the proposed definition of an event facility: “Event Facility is hereby defined as a building, structure or site where events for entertainment are provided for the pleasure of patrons, either independent or in conjunction with any other use. Such events include but are not limited to festivals, concerts, arts and crafts shows, weddings, organized parties, skate events, rodeos, carnivals, circuses, dances, plays, animal shows and car shows.”
Commission member John McCarthy of Buckhead was adamant the proposed revisions would not burden or have a negative impact on current venues such as The Sunflower Farm in Rutledge, which holds an annual festival that draws thousands of visitors, and the Hundred Acre Farm, which caters to weddings and other similar events. “As you can tell, I’ve obviously had some feedback” from current business owners. He cautioned fellow commission members to not “create more restrictions for the new facility that would negatively impact existing businesses.”
At one point in the discussion, McCarthy said, “I think we’re getting carried away. Let’s focus on the facility rather than have a broad-brush approach. Let’s make the rules specific to Cowboys because she is the one who started this or asked for it.”
The commission took no action during the work session, but expects to officially address the proposal at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Thursday at the planning and development headquarters.
Printed in the July 28 edition