Honeymoon may be over for Johnson County wedding business - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Honeymoon may be over for Johnson County wedding business


Mary Ellen Hill received a 33 acre plot of land just north of Iowa City as a surprise gift from her late husband John.

"I couldn't believe that he had done such a loving thing, and he really wanted me to have something that was special to me," Hill said.

Hill began by growing her dream sunshine garden, but the area has since bloomed into so much more.

"As time went on people saw what I was doing, more and more people wanted to see it," she said.

Hill developed the area into 14 theamed gardens and a 22 acre walking prairie.  For more than two decades, she has run a flower business and tours, called the Gardens at Gazebo on the Green, which attracts visitors form all over.

The gardens were so impressive that it didn't take long before guests were asking to have weddings there.

"Innocently I said yes, and it turns out that 20 years later, I had evidently done something that I should not do," Hill said.

After 22 years of business, Hill found out the weddings violated zoning regulations.  The land her business sits on is zoned half residential and half agricultural, meaning the garden business was okay, but the wedding business was deemed commercial in nature, and a violation of land-use rules.

For us to put a conflicting commercial use in the middle of that area would be in conflict with our land use plan," said Rick Dvorak, Planning and Zoning Administrator of Johnson County.

Hill has since gone to the Johnson County Board of Adjustment, asking for a conditional permit that would allow her to host weddings.

Wednesday the board granted her a permit to host weddings through October.

The problem, Hill says, is that the weddings have evolved into something that supports the gardens.  She now worries if she can no longer host weddings, she'll have to sell the land.

"When you have a gift given to you of this magnitude, the idea of seeing it destroyed is unbearable," Hill said.

A scary prospect for a woman that's grown her business from the ground up.

Hill says she's not sure if she'll go back before the board and reapply for a conditional permit.  For now, she says she'll focus on promoting her garden business.

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