Paul Siegel said he counted nine Will County Sheriff’s squad cars Tuesday morning when county officials showed up with a search warrant to inspect the newest attraction at the family’s Cottonwood Farm.
“When there’s a murder scene, you don’t have nine squad cars showing up,” Siegel said. “Why would you raid an empty barn with 12 deputies, four land use inspectors and the health department? It was so over the top it just boggles the mind.”
The inspection was a prelude to a temporary restraining order issued Wednesday barring business at The Barn at Cottonwood for at least a week.
The Barn at Cottonwood is an event venue that would be added to the pumpkin farm, farm stand, garden sales, country store and Statesville Haunted House that now make up the Siegel family agritainment operation on Weber Road.
On Wednesday, a judge will decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction to prolong the stoppage of business at The Barn at Cottonwood.
The court action threatens the first event scheduled for the new facility May 26, as well as weddings scheduled for upcoming weeks.
Siegel said he has the capacity to move the events to his Antique Building – another farm building on the property that is used for weddings and other banquets.
In the meantime, he’ll have to deal with the complaint from Will County, which alleges that he sought a building permit for the “barn-like structure, for the express purpose of agricultural use [hay and machinery storage].”
Instead, the complaint states, the barn is being advertised for its “8-foot gleaming, Swarovski crystal chandelier,” “a dramatic and romantic atmosphere,” and “the perfect country backdrop that is both charming and unique for wedding ceremonies, receptions, reunions and corporate events.”
Will County State’s Attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie said the building needs to go through the commercial zoning process to determine that it meets safety standards and other requirements for public venues.
“We can’t guarantee that an ambulance or firetruck can get onto that property,” Pelkie said. Other issues include water supplies, bathroom facilities and sprinkler systems.
County officials obtained a search warrant to determine whether events already had been held at The Barn.
“We were looking for evidence that he had held a number of events, as had been indicated in some of his advertising,” Pelkie said.
Siegel said there have been no commercial events at The Barn, and the advertising is designed to show what Cottonwood Farm has done for events in the past.
A grand opening party for The Barn was held in July after the shell of the building was completed, Siegel said. But the event included a ribbon-cutting at the entrance of The Barn while the celebration was moved to the Antique Building.
Siegel acknowledges getting an agricultural permit to build the barn, which he said was necessary because the property is zoned for agriculture. But he said that he always discussed his plans to use the building for commercial use.
“This is not operating in a void,” he said. “The county knows what’s going on. ... It’s not like I’ve been doing this and hiding from anybody.”
In February, Siegel said, he decided to annex the land on which The Barn is built to the city of Crest Hill along with the exiting Cottonwood Farm commercial operation and have it zoned for commercial use.
Siegel said he had expected the annexation to be completed by late May but now believes that will occur sometime in June.
Crest Hill has received Siegel’s application for annexation.
But City Administrator Heather McGuire said some questions have surfaced as to whether the building meets the city code for event facilities, including access to running water, fire sprinklers and parking.
“A typical annexation with no issues would take two or three months to work through,” McGuire said. “This one would require some discussion.”
McGuire said she could not predict whether the City Council would approve the annexation in time for June events at The Barn, but said that would be “a very quick turnaround.”