Building a Dream Barn: The Permit Process

In the third installment of her blog, dressage professional Kelly McGinn details the challenges in the permit process—which include zoning complications and an ample dose of anxiety!

Hi everyone! I hope you are well and enjoying my blog about the construction of my dream barn so far. (Click here to read my previous posts!)

I wanted to talk a little bit about the permit process that we had to go through to build our dressage facility. There are many, many details but I will share some of the biggest hurdles we overcame.

Shortly after we closed on the property, we began the permit process. We submitted the proper paperwork and forms and we waited. And waited some more. We live in Talbot County, Maryland, and our permit process is definitely not easy. We were warned by many people to get ready because it was going to be a long and stressful process. What we didn’t know was that this was going to take even longer and be the most stressful part of our journey so far. 

We were advised to hire a land-use attorney to help us navigate the process and we were so glad that we did. We would have been lost without his guidance. After waiting for what seemed like forever, we finally had a meeting with the planning and zoning board. This is where they decided that my business was “commercial” instead of “agricultural.” It seemed as if the county couldn’t even really agree which my business should be, so in making us commercial, we had to apply for a zoning change for our property. This took more time and more money. 

One of the frustrating parts for me was trying to explain to the county exactly what my business is. They thought that with the size of the building (the indoor) that I would be filling it with people (think big box stores). I had to explain that I ride horses in that space (Yes, I ride around in circles on horses). It was actually pretty funny trying to explain what we do as riders to non-horsepeople! The county also thought that I was going to have a lot of traffic coming and going. I had to explain that I don’t run a riding school with lots of people coming in and out. These were questions they were asking because it would affect how many parking spaces, etc., I would need. We were getting nervous that the county was going to make this impossible for us to afford.

At this point, we were about six months into this process and we were no closer to getting our permits. There were more meetings to attend to go over details like the site plan, storm water management, manure management, etc., not to mention meetings to request a change of zoning for our property from “residential” to “commercial.” And in between these meetings, there was more waiting. And more waiting. What we discovered pretty quickly was that there is a lack of communication between the offices within the county. My husband, Bobby, would try to call to get updates and would be passed on to another office or a different person. He would send emails that just wouldn’t get answered. I can’t tell you how many times we were so close to just giving up. It seemed like we would take two steps forward and then take 10 steps back. Clearly the permit process in our county is flawed, unfortunately for us.

Fast forward to 16 months later: We finally got our permits! We were excited but also a little—ok, a lot—worried because in making us commercial, this also required us to do an extensive storm water management plan. This means that we will have two bioretention ponds. A bioretention pond is a storm water management tool. It is a permanent pool of standing water and eventually empties into a receiving water body. The benefit is improved water quality for surrounding water bodies and it will improve drainage on the farm. This was a requirement for our county and it is becoming standard for the state of Maryland. This was going to add to the expense of the entire project. The 16-month delay in getting the permits also made our lender nervous and we were at risk of losing our financing. These were stressful times for sure. The good thing about doing the retention ponds is that we will have excellent drainage.

Once we got the permits, Bobby started making calls to get the last of the estimates that we needed. We already had our barn plans and builder but we needed to hire someone to do the bioretention ponds and excavating and we met with several fencing companies. This all took more time, but at least we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We had our builder, excavation guy and the footing/arena guy here for a meeting and we came up with a plan to begin building. This is where I started to get a little excited, but always in the back of my mind, I was wondering if it would all work out. Right around this time is when COVID-19 shut everything down. Talk about having doubts and apprehension. What a crazy time to be taking on such a big endeavor! But, we kept moving forward.

I am excited to say this… drumroll…We began building! On April 21, our excavator came out and put in the construction driveway. Nick Slayden, who happens to be a friend but also does impeccable work, is doing some of the excavation and the retention ponds. The builder began digging the holes for the footers of the indoor on April 28. 

Here are pictures of the construction driveway being installed. I considered this the official “ground breaking.” We had a little celebration that day!

We had to wait a bit for some dry days, which seem to be far and few between here in Maryland. I was so excited to see the holes in the ground! Once the process started, it’s pretty amazing how fast it goes! The next day, they had the poles set and then the construction crew was hustling because we were expected to have heavy rain and high winds, so they needed to get the poles sured up so that they didn’t sway and break in the wind. I am including lots of pictures of this process as it seems to be going at a quick rate!

Early in the morning on April 29, this truck of supplies was delivered. This is when I knew it was really happening! Footers were set and construction was moving along
Here is Bobby taking advantage of one of the many wood piles to get a good photo.

I am a little surprised at how I have felt since building began. I always imagined that I would be so excited and happy when we finally got to this point, and I definitely am happy and excited, but what has surprised me is a little bit of a worried and nervous feeling, with some anxiety mixed in. It has been one crazy journey to get to this exact point and it’s almost like being on a roller coaster and it finally stopped. 

Here are some pictures of the holes for the footers. This was especially exciting because it meant the actual structures were starting. Our dog, Folly, and the chickens approve!

I am now filled with the hope and worry that comes along with making the dream work as a business. I’ve been in the horse business for a long time, but never at my own farm. I have so many ideas and plans that I now need to make reality. I can finally provide the care and environment for the horses and my clients that I have always wanted to. When someone else owns the farm, my hands were sometimes tied with what my expectations were and what I was actually able to do. So, yes, I am excited. But I am also holding myself to higher standards than ever before, so I do not take this opportunity for granted and I want to do the best that I can! 

Click here to read more articles with Kelly McGinn.

Kelly McGinn is an FEI rider, trainer and coach. She has brought many horses and riders up through the levels and has enjoyed success in regional and national championships as well as year end awards. Kelly was also chosen to ride the Friesian stallion Lolke 372 in the opening ceremonies of the World Equestrian Games in 2010 in the famed 10 horse Friesian train. Kelly has trained with Scott Hassler since 1991 and she credits Scott for her teaching and training style as he has been a big influence in her education. Kelly has also had the opportunity to ride with many well known clinicians including Steffen Peters, Michael Klimke and Debbie McDonald. Kelly also participated in the Young Dressage Trainers Symposium for 9 years where she developed a love for the process of training young horses. She runs a small teaching and training business in Easton, Maryland, where she has a variety of different horses in training and believes that every horse can benefit from good dressage training regardless of the breed.






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