Controversial Event Center Proposal Passes First Test

NORFOLK – A permit for a proposed event barn west of Norfolk will soon be drafted.

The Norfolk Planning Commission voted 5-3 on Tuesday to have staff draft a conditional use permit for developers to create an event barn north of the intersection of Benjamin Avenue and 49th Street.

The Commission gave staff the go-ahead despite almost universal opposition from property owners in that area, who don’t like the idea of having a venue for weddings and other events in their backyard.

“It would appear that granting this conditional use permit would border on an arbitrary decision that would benefit only the applicants and would be to the detriment of everybody else that lives in the area,” said attorney Ryan Stover, who represented one of the area landowners.

“It’s a fire hazard,” said area resident Bobbi Theisen. “It is all grassland, until they tear it up for their huge concrete parking lots, disturbing the wildlife and natural beauty of the land. What happens when someone throws a cigarette out in a dry summer?” 

“We would ask the community of Norfolk and the leaders of this community to look for ways to come together to find proper location for this project,” said area landowner Ivan Petersen. “This event barn will be a good addition to Norfolk if done well and in a proper location. It also can be a burden on our community if done poorly and in the wrong location.”

No alternative location for the potential event center has been proposed.

Developers say they are willing to work with neighbors and the city to make the venue as safe as possible.

“It’s not going to be a big rocking’ party,” said developer Dominic Miller. “People will be out doing the Chicken Dance. Kids will be playing. As far as some outdoor activities, we want kids to come out during the fall and play with pumpkins and run around in the open area. It is beautiful country and we don’t want to change it.” 

The battle over the event center’s location isn’t over yet. Once drafted, the conditional use permit will be brought back to the Planning Commission in two weeks for additional discussion.

The controversial development served as an on-the-job initiation for newest Planning Commission members Billy Coby and Dirk Waite. The third new commissioner, Dr. Zachary Gangwer, was not in attendance.

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