While an alleged misunderstanding caused one business owner to jump the gun on hosting a new venture in Warsaw, town officials threw their support behind his plans for an expo center last Thursday.
On April 4, the Warsaw Planning Commission recommended sending Junior Kent’s conditional use permit (C.U.P.) for a banquet and exposition hall to town council next Thursday, April 11.
Kent rushed Town Manager John Slusser into action when he sent out flyers advertising the “Gun, Knife and Militaria Show” on the weekend of May 4.
The flyer placed the gun show at “Expoland,” formerly known as the Warsaw Buy Rite building that Kent owns off of Route 3.
According to Slusser, Kent had asked him one month ago about using the Buy Rite or Levi’s building for exhibitions and shows.
“I think that’d probably be a good idea,” Slusser replied. “I don’t see any problem with it.”
Slusser’s response prompted Kent to set up the exposition center before finalizing the process for the permit.
“I meant it wouldn’t be any problem after he got the conditional use permit,” Slusser told the commissioners. “I wasn’t specific enough…because I didn’t have any idea that he was getting ready to fire it up. “
Slusser said he could “pull the plug” on the gun show, but in doing so he would cause Kent to lose money on arrangements for the exhibition.
“I understand that some of the vendors have gotten hotel rooms, and there are benefits to it,” Slusser added.
Upon learning that the flyer was not a sample, the reaction from Planning Commissioner Rebecca Hubert was one of concern.
“My only question would be…is this setting a precedent by him doing that?” Hubert asked in regards to Kent holding the show without a conditional use permit.
“Not really,” Slusser replied. “Let’s say somebody put up an illegal sign somewhere. We would ask them to take the sign down, modify the sign and put it up the way it’s supposed to be. “
Slusser added that Kent would still hold the event.
“It is premature because he hasn’t gotten the actual C.U.P., but on the other hand it’ll be good to see if it works in [the old Buy Rite building] or not,” he said, adding that the ordeal was a misunderstanding between “two people that were trying to do the right thing.”
Therefore, Slusser maintained that Kent should not be penalized for the “legitimate misunderstanding.”
“It’s not the way we would like to do business, but I think under the circumstances, it’s perhaps our best course of action.”
But Commissioner and Councilmember William Washington told Slusser that there was no wrongdoing.
“You caught this in time,” said Washington.
Slusser agreed, but noted that Kent would still be holding the gun show without the C.U.P.
But he also said that the application for the permit had been submitted and that was “in process.”
Washington proposed that the commission send the C.U.P. to town council for the following week, but admitted that holding the public hearing before the weekend of the show would be tricky.
But Commissioner Krista Sisk suggested they aim for a hearing on May 2, the Thursday before the event.
“This is a situation where this building has been empty for a while,” said Sisk. “There hasn’t been any use in it and he is the owner of the building.
“It’s not changing ownership,” she added. “It’s just changing usage and breathing life into an existing building.”
Slusser agreed with Sisk’s suggestion, saying he could advertise the public hearing in April before holding a special joint meeting of town council and the planning commission on May 1 at 7 p.m. in town hall to approve the C.U.P.
“Then all is right with the world,” he said.
Slusser added that Kent was well thought of by the people in town, and that he had a good reputation.
“He’s also somebody who has operated a business in town for several years successfully and has a good track record,” said Slusser. “What we’re really talking about is paperwork [that] hadn’t caught up.”
Washington questioned the permit’s categorization of Kent’s “Expoland” as a banquet hall.
Commissioner Roger Lee replied that Kent “has the facility for it,” while Slusser said that the categorization opened up the building to events like benefits and similar functions.
Chairman “Mac” Lowery said the rules outlined by Kent for the gun show appeared to cover problems that addressed people’s concerns with guns in the area.
The rules specified that no loaded firearms were allowed into the show with the exception of active duty law enforcement, and that each gun was rendered inoperable during the show through the use of a locking zip tie.
But Slusser reminded the commission that they weren’t approving the show.
“You’re approving the permit, and this a show that may be one of many,” he said, adding that there could be any kind of show in the building such as a horse show or a bridal show.
“The reason [the gun show is included in your packets] is so you can connect the dots,” said Slusser.
“He knows how to put fire under our feet,” Lee said on Kent.
But Washington suggested that wasn’t Kent’s intentions.
“We’re pretty good with people,” he said.
Commissioner Anne Barker made the motion to send the permit to council for their review.