After hearing arguments in support of and against a proposed agritourism farm featuring berries, bee hives and production of mead made from honey, Bulloch County Commissioners unanimously denied a man’s request Tuesday for a zoning change to allow the business to operate.
Three couples – Eric and Debbie Van Otteren, their son and daughter-in-law Zach and Brooke Van Otteren and friends Wes and Ashley Vanmeter, acting together as limited-liability company Woonerf LLC, sought approval to build Five Hives & Vines on a 26.78 acre parcel that was once part of the former Smithfield Golf Course on Hwy. 46 and Kennedy Pond.
However, several people affiliated with two adjacent charities – Fostering Bulloch and Seven Mile Farm, also situated on land that was once part of the golf course – opposed the idea.
The business would encompass a meadery (facility to produce mead, an alcoholic beverage), about 50 beehives, berry fields, and a barnlike structure that would serve as a venue for weddings, parties, and other events. The plans were also to construct a residential area and have a bed and breakfast location.
Since Bulloch County's zoning rules require a minimum 30 acres for a farm winery, Woonerf, LLC filed a variance request, as well as a conditional use request in addition to seeking the zoning change from Highway Commercial to Ag 5.
But when commissioners voted 5-0 against the zoning change, the other two requests were rendered moot.
Eric Van Ottren provided commissioners a petition with 13 signatures from Smith Creek subdivision, across Highway 46 from the parcel in question, stating the persons signing the document were in support of the proposed business.
But Chris Yaughn, founder and director of Fostering Bulloch and partner with Joseph’s Home, a boy’s home located on their property next to Van Otteren’s, said he and many others with connections to the charities did not wish to see that kind of business locate there.
He said he had met with Van Otteren and told him he could not support the venture. He and several others in opposition of the meadery spoke to commissioners, citing the presence of alcohol, the presence of numerous bees and late-night celebrations as reasons the business would not be suitable to the charities, where children attend camp and recovering addicts try to rebuild their lives.
Some concerns included the readily available alcoholic beverages could pose a temptation to those in recovery; so many bees could be dangerous if a child with allergies were to be stung; and revelries in the late hours would disrupt the peace of the boys’ home and others.
However, Van Otteren pointed out that a convenience store within sight of the charities and property in question sells alcohol.
Yaughn countered with the fact that the store was there before they purchased the property. He added that if Five Hives was approved, he would “be the best neighbors they ever had” and would “ask what can I do to help?”
Zach Van Otteren, who lives in Statesboro and works for Georgia Southern University caring for the horticulture on the campus, spoke to commissioners, describing the proposed farm as being a peaceful, family-oriented place. “We are asking for a chance to make a difference in this community,” he said.
Eric Van Otteren said the business would tuck nicely into the county’s agritourism concept, and although the partners purchased the property before seeking a zoning change, selected it due to the ideal location and view. The location is just a few miles from Interstate 16 and a short distance from Statesboro..
While he did not return phone messages left Wednesday, Eric Van Otteren said in earlier interviews with the Statesboro Herald that his family and partners would consider alternative uses if the requests were denied. These could include buying more land to exceed the 30-acre minimum or placing the mead-making part of the business in a different location.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.