The Strawberry Jam controversy got somewhat less sticky Tuesday as Blount County Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. denied an injunction that would have prevented the owners of Maple Lane Farm from holding their annual concert.
The two-day event will go on May 16 and 17 at the farm off Morganton Road in the western portion of Blount County. Residents near the farm, complaining of noise, traffic and litter, had wanted the chancellor to order Bob Schmidt, owner of Maple Lane Farm, not to hold the annual concert.
But Forgety ruled that the plaintiff, Velda Shore, had not proven under the laws that the concert constituted an ongoing nuisance and that she was seeking to enjoin something that has not happened yet, in effect that she is trying to halt an event that she anticipates may be a nuisance.
Forgety, in issuing his ruling, said Tennessee law gives property owners wide latitude in the use of their land as long as that use does not prevent others from the free use and enjoyment of their own land.
In addition, Maple Lane Farm is zoned R-1, meaning its use is mostly agricultural in nature, which exempts it from some of the tighter restrictions on its use. And, in reality, Schmidt and his family raise strawberries and other produce on the land.
Plus they raise a field of corn through which they cut a maze each fall and invite anyone who wants to walk the maze around Halloween.
Schmidt, Forgety said, “is entitled to use his property in any legal manner as long and he does not interfere” with others’ enjoyment and free use of their property.
The request for an injunction is part of a larger legal action between Shore and Schmidt over whether Maple Lane Farm can be used for anything not agricultural in nature, including the corn maze.
Shore testified that she spends more time at home than most others in her neighborhood because, at 80 and retired, her activities are limited and she has health problems.
She only drives short distances, she said, and hardly at all after dark.
On cross-examination by Brent Johnson, representing Schmidt, Shore said her property is not adjacent to Maple Lane Farm but is separated from it by only a narrow piece of land.
She testified she cannot see the performers or crowd when the Strawberry Jam is going on, but she can hear what she described as the “boom, boom, boom” of the music, even with her windows closed.
She testified about an exchange of letters with Blount County officials and the Schmidts seeking a settlement of the issues, what she called “reasonable accommodation.”
In one of the letters she said she had “no desire to stay” in the vicinity of the farm and expressed an interest in Maple Lane Farm buying her property and paying her expenses to move.
Pressed on the statement, she admitted that the statement was “a rush to judgment” and that she has no intention of leaving.
She said the music from the Strawberry Jam adversely affects her health because she cannot get the rest she requires. She also said she fears for her personal safety and welfare during the event because of the additional traffic through the neighborhood.
The roads through there, Shore said, are “winding and hilly” and not safe to travel during the festival.
Asked about the noise, she said she could not equate the music with the sounds of hunters and sport shooters in the area because the shooting does not go on “all day and all night.”
On redirect, Shore’s attorney, Michael Menefee, tried to enter into evidence an article that appeared in The Daily Times about the Strawberry Jam, but Forgety disallowed it as hearsay.
The only other witness called at the Tuesday hearing was Roger Fields, Blount County’s building commissioner, who said he asked for an opinion by the county’s attorney on whether the concert violated the county’s zoning regulations.
In the opinion, attorney Rob Goddard said the entertainment events at the farm are “incidental” to its primary agricultural use, although the use of a helicopter at the jam did cause some concern.
Johnson moved to dismiss the motion for an injunction without calling any witnesses at the hearing. He said Shore had failed to show that the event violates zoning regulations or than it qualifies under the law as what is known as an “anticipatory nuisance,” one that will be a nuisance at all times. Johnson said the “mere possibility” of a nuisance does not rise to the level that justifies issuing an injunction on an activity that has not happened yet.
Forgety agreed, noting that as an agricultural site, Maple Lane Farm sells strawberries even at its Strawberry Jam concert event.
Following the hearing, Schmidt said the concert would go on, with gates opening Friday, May 16, at 6 p.m. The music will start at 7 p.m. and be over by 10 p.m. Admission will be free that night, which he called Customers’ Appreciation Night.
There will be camping in the rough for RVs and tents but no water or electrical hookups. There will be plenty of restrooms, he said.
The following day will be Armed Forces Appreciation Day with current and former members of the services and reservists getting in free. Others will pay $10 for adults and $7 for children.
Saturday’s lineup is bluegrass entertainment, and there will be kids’ activities and as many as 50 craft booths. Plus the Tennessee National Guard will have a display booth.
On advice of his attorney, Schmidt declined to say if there will be any active noise abatement actions taken during the Strawberry Jam.
There also will be collection points at the jam for financial donations to New Hope, Blount County’s Children’s Advocacy Center.
No date has been set for the trial of the lawsuit.