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Neighbors afraid of noise, lights at attraction

DACULA - Usually, neighbors complain about more and more houses eating away at open land. This time, it's the open land they have a problem with.

Pilar Quintero and her husband, Juan, have owned Rancho Alegre on Givens Road for about two years. Before they owned it, Pilar Quintero said, the place fell afoul of many county rules.

For one, there was an exotic petting zoo with fare such as a camel, a bobcat, reptiles and a llama. When the Quinteros bought the place, the Department of Natural Resources confiscated some of the animals.

The previous owners also had bright lights and loud speakers. When Pilar Quintero found out they weren't up to county regulations, she decided to make the place legal.

That's where she ran into trouble.

The Quinteros, who are a host barn for the Dacula High School and Middle School equestrian teams, say they need a public address system for competitions, lights so events can continue past dark, an extension of the 6 p.m. curfew that limits what they can do on their property and a lifting of the 100-person cap for events.

But neighbors say they can hear the speakers in their homes and see the lights through trees separating the properties. And when they come home from a long day at work, they don't want the cars and noise that would come with more people and later events.

"You get an inch, you take a mile," neighbor Bob McLaughlin said at a community meeting in September. "You start out really small, then it grows. You would not be here doing this if you did not want it to grow."

Pilar Quintero acknowledges that she doesn't know how popular Rancho Alegre could become and has used the lights and loudspeakers in the past, but since she learned that she needed a special permit from the county to operate them, the lights have been unplugged and the speakers unused.

The chance to get that permit will come Tuesday when the Board of Commissioners will hear the Quinteros' requests. But Pilar Quintero is not optimistic about her chances to hold later shows and larger benefits at the ranch.

"Neighbors believe we're rezoning this area to commercial, but we're not rezoning the area," she said. "Before, we didn't watch our back, but anything we're doing now, we have four eyes watching over us."

Neighbor Todd Bray said he believes the Quinteros are good people, but is scared of what could happen to the property.

Bray said he and other homeowners will fight to keep Rancho Alegre from getting the necessary permits and are not willing to compromise on crowds, nighttime activities, lighting or a public address system - in other words, any of the requests.

"I'm cool with anything they said until there's an announcer and I'm sitting at the dining room table hearing about it," Bray said. "It's violating ourselves in our houses."

Pilar Quintero said neighbors are holding a Christmas party that got rowdy against them. She said she would have calmed her guests down if she had known the neighbors could hear. Events at the ranch, she said, will be quiet and contained, but neighbors are still wary.

Pilar Quintero said she just wants the chance to show how good the ranch can be with fundraisers, benefits and events for high school students and other children.

She said the improvements she has already made to the ranch - such as moving the arena and knocking down some buildings - speak for themselves. The property is about 36 acres and home to about 40 horses, including about 15 Paso Finos, which she breeds.

"We're going to prove them wrong," she said. "We're not going to be the rowdy people they're playing us up to be."

Not everyone is against the plan, but neighbors who were in favor of it at a Planning Commission meeting in August couldn't stay until 11:30 p.m., when the case was heard, Pilar Quintero said. The Planning Commission recommended denying the request, and the Board of Commissioners tabled it the first time it came before them. At the community meeting, one neighbor supported the ranch owner.

"We're talking about a high school equestrian team, not 200 acres," Diane Pinkard said. "We want to have a place for kids, as long as it's not in our own backyard. As long as it's in Jefferson or Kentucky, that's great."