GEARHART — There won’t be any weddings or special events at Neacoxie Barn in Gearhart, at least until March.
Clatsop County Circuit Court Judge Cindee Matyas signed a temporary injunction Tuesday prohibiting owner Shannon Smith from using the barn for commercial events. The injunction provides an opportunity for a “cooling-off period” after years of rancor and legal disputes between Smith and the city.
According to the agreement, Smith is subject to a temporary injunction pledging not to use the barn for future events without the necessary permits, Gearhart City Manager Chad Sweet said.
“We’re doing our best to help it out in any way, in terms of conversations,” Sweet said Tuesday. “There are still things she needs to do that we can’t bend on having to do with public safety.”
“This agreement was a way to secure a February mediation type of sit-down with the city with all experts — something that I have asked for multiple times over the years,” Smith said via email Wednesday. “The property is not used in winter anyway.”
The barn, at 774 Pacific Way by Neacoxie Creek, is used for weddings, family reunions and other commercial events, according to city officials. But without a conditional use permit and a building occupancy permit, the owners are putting the health and safety of guests and residents at risk.
So far, Smith has racked up more than $30,000 in fines, and more are pending.
However, in November, Municipal Court Judge John Orr ruled that Gearhart’s zoning code did not prohibit the types of activities conducted at the barn.
Gearhart’s zoning ordinance spells out only seven permitted uses by a property owner, but finds “no reference, permission, restriction nor regulation whatsoever for parties, wedding parties, large group gatherings, family reunions, class reunions and the like,” Orr said in his ruling.
Two $500 zone code citations were dismissed and pending citations were withdrawn by the city.
But safety violations issued by Building Official Jim Brien under the city’s municipal and state building codes of more than $30,000 remained, delivered after six events held at Neacoxie Barn last year.
In December, the City Council, acting as an appeals body, upheld the penalties citing Smith’s lack of a certificate of occupancy allowing her to hold events. Councilors then reduced that fine by half, to $15,000.
An additional $5,000 — for use of the barn in November — awaits City Council review.
Along with local zone and municipal code actions, Gearhart officials filed a motion in Clatsop County Circuit Court to close the barn from commercial use until health and safety violations were addressed and a certificate of occupancy delivered.
Citing Judge Orr’s Gearhart ruling, Smith had asked the Circuit Court to drop Gearhart’s request.
Despite the ruling, the barn or livery stable requires a valid certificate of occupancy and Smith’s request to dismiss the injunction hearing was denied.
Smith and the city embarked on negotiations late last month.
In a late December letter, Smith’s lawyer Dan Kearns requested a delay based on “hopefully fruitful settlement discussions.”
Kearns asked the Circuit Court for a “60-day cooling off period where the parties would meet and confer and attempt to resolve this dispute.”
Since that time, the city and Smith have been in discussions for an agreement to give Smith more time to present plans to bring the barn up to code.
“She’s buying some time for herself and we’re allowing this pause to give her that opportunity,” Sweet said.