Kate Holland of the United Kingdom moved to the U.S. to open a new business, but now faces an appeal that may shut down her dreams.
FREEPORT — It was the American dream turned nightmare for Kate Holland of England, who moved her family to Walton County with plans to relocate her ranch retreat.
Holland wanted only to escape the constant downpours in the United Kingdom and trade in her rain boots for flip-flops, she said Wednesday as she stood beside her large wedding venue tepees pitched in an open field surrounded by horses. The property Holland purchased is well known in the community for its unique golden horse statues placed at the front gates off State Road 20 West.
The Walton County Planning Department initially approved Holland's permit for the Horse Power Pavilion, the business which includes the venue, glamping sites, a coffee truck and a bistro. Later plans would add about 50 RV camping lots and gravel parking.
An appeal filed against the approval by one of Holland's neighbors, however, seeks to reverse the zoning board's final order to grant some of Holland's permits. Holland was stalled in opening any of the offerings on site because of the appeal, she said, which stopped all income to support her young family.
Holland is in the United States on a work visa.
"I have to take a stand on this," she said. "I can't just sit here and do nothing. It's not the county's fault. They are trying to do everything to cover my (expletive).
"Since the appeal, I've had two separate break-ins to the tepees and had damage done. I've had an attempt to break into my coffee trailer. I've had handfuls of nails spread all over my drive where my kids play on their bikes. It has been endless torture."
Mac Carpenter, Walton County's planning director, said Wednesday a neighbor, or group of neighbors, is opposed to the wedding venue and bistro, which he called a café, in the neighborhood because they are worried about "impacts to the neighborhood that haven't occurred and are likely not to occur. "
"They haven't raised any valid objections that we can see, but the court will decide that," Carpenter said. "They are worried about noise and traffic. I have no idea how long it will take for the appeal to move though the court system. It may take a year or more."
The appeal says because Holland's property is in a residential area, establishing a café (referencing the bistro) or wedding venue is not permissible.
"The petitioners, as neighboring property owners who objected to the variance, have a right to rely on the zoning conditions that exist in their neighborhood and a right to a continuation of those conditions in the absence of a showing that a variance and conditional use order were necessary and proper under the law," the appeal said.
The county's Board of Adjustment, however, had already reviewed and approved the conditional use and variance that the appeal states is unlawful.
Elizabeth Billhimer, the attorney represented those appealing, said she could not comment on the case because of the pending litigation. Those appealing are Hilde Clements, Sonja Clements, Sharon Nickerson, James Wallace, Warren Poston and Carrie Padgett.
Before her troubles began, Holland spent six years visiting the U.S. looking for the perfect location to relocate her business. She met with Walton County Planning Department twice before purchasing the property to make sure the business would likely be approved, she said.
When the first hearing for the business rolled around in February, however, Holland said the plans were met with much resistance from the community.
"There were so many objections," Holland said. "People were going crazy. It was mainly because they didn't read or understand our plans. When I got my coffee trailer I opened it to my neighbors to come and ask me questions. Everyone who wanted me here came and had coffee and all the haters stayed home hating."
Holland said she uses the word "neighbors" loosely because, after purchasing the Horse Power Pavilion, she also purchased the two surrounding ranches. The only other property next to hers is Eglin Air Force Base, she said.
"I don't really have any neighbors," Holland said. "I own about 50 acres here and made sure not to even put the back wood in the plans so there would be no noise. The land to the left of my home isn't in the plans, either."
County commissioners approved all of Holland's requests at a February meeting, despite the community's rebuttal. There was a second hearing, she said, where again the plans were approved.
Holland said she received about 500 signatures in favor of the business within a few weeks after opening up her land for the community to ask questions.
"We still received no permits," Holland said last week. "It's one family who is appealing, and they had 28 days to submit the appeal. They waited until the last day. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they don't want it. They just don't."
On Thursday, after the Daily News contacted the Walton County Planning Department for records regarding the appeal, Holland received a permit — six months after it was first approved. The permit, according to Holland, now allows her to hold events, open her coffee trailer and allow glamping and RV camping on site.
Carpenter said it was his understanding Holland cannot open her wedding venue or bistro to the public until after the appeal is reviewed by the court. He said he believes Holland's plans would be an asset to the community.
"I think it will enhance shopping and opportunities in the community," he said. "It appears the coffee shop that was open as a roadside vending operation was quite popular."
Holland said the bistro will resemble The Gulf on Okaloosa Island and will be housed in an existing green building near the front gates. If the appeal wins, Holland will still be allowed to open her bistro, but only to her private guests. Holland, however, isn't satisfied with that compromise.
"Now the appeal is going to the courthouse in DeFuniak Springs," Holland said. "The judge has to schedule to read and review the file. He has to decide whether it is thrown out or goes to circuit court.
"I want to be open to the entire community."