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Mudding venue fights to re-open after county officials deny exception two years in a row

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MARION, Ind. -- An unusual venue in central Indiana has been fighting to re-open its gates, but county officials continue to deny petitions for the owner to host events.

Haley Mullins, whose uncle Junior Stone owns The Mudd Yard, contacted CBS4 Problem Solvers after the county denied Stone's application for a special exception for the second time since 2017. The special exception would be required in order for Stone to host concert and mudding events.

Mudding, also known as mud bogging, draws people who want to drive their four-wheel-drive and off-road vehicles through pits of mud. Mullins pointed to venues outside of Grant County that host similar events, though she said there are not many in Indiana.

"I get messages all the time, 'Are you guys open yet? When are you going to open, is there anything we can do?'" Mullins said.

The Mudd Yard opened in 2016, when a group hosting an event called The Redneck Rave reached out to Stone, asking him to hold a weekend concert event on his property just outside Marion city limits.

"I (saw) it was something that the community really liked and had a good time, and so that’s when we decided to open it up as a mud yard," Stone said.

Stone hosted several events in 2016 and early 2017, but The Mudd Yard's beginnings were rocky. Nearby residents complained to city and county officials about issues like noise, mud on the road and potential dangers, causing the county to step in and shut Stone down.

According to Stone, officials provided him with necessary steps he would need to take to continue hosting events, which he worked to accommodate.

"I’ve spent about $40,000 out here complying with everything," Stone said.

Despite his efforts, Stone has been unable to get the special exception. Most recently, the county's Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA, voted down the exception at a January 2019 meeting.

CBS4 Problem Solvers visited The Mudd Yard, where Stone showed off improvements, including an area to wash mud off vehicles before they leave. Stone and Mullins also said they planned to require all vehicles to be towed on trailers in order to cut down on mud in the road.

That won't be enough for some opponents, though. Marion City Council member Deborah Cain has spoken against The Mudd Yard at previous county meetings, including on behalf of her neighborhood association, which sits close to the venue.

"It’s not the event, it’s not what they’re holding, it’s where it’s located. And that was just the concern of the neighborhood: could they find someplace else?" Cain said.

Cain also suggested that neighbors might be OK with one-night concert events but don't like the full weekend events Stone was previously holding.

Stone, meanwhile, said that he has cut ties with The Redneck Rave and his final unaffiliated event, in 2017, produced no major issues. He said moving the venue is not an option, since he has spent so much money on his current property. He did present two letters of support from neighbors when he went before the BZA in January.

Stone and Mullins are hoping people will give them another chance, and not jump to conclusions when it comes to mudding.

"It’s really a good time, it’s very family oriented, a lot of the people that (came) out brought their kids," Stone said.

Stone hired a lawyer who recently filed an appeal in court, asking a judge to look into the case. In the appeal, his lawyer argues that the county changed its laws after Stone originally opened the venue, and he should be grandfathered in. The court case is currently pending.

"It would be different if I didn’t do everything they asked me to do, but I mean I put my all into it," Stone said.

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