Citing “grave concerns for public safety,” the county has asked a judge to shut down the Lakeside Ranches wedding and reception venue until the owner receives a fire code permit for one of the buildings.

Meanwhile, property owner Greg Williams, who voluntarily had a portion of his property annexed into the city of Inverness, received notices from the city’s fire department that buildings meet the fire code and there are no need for building permits.

The county and Williams are continuing a legal battle that began in 2017, when Williams sued to stop the county from enforcing ordinances on his agricultural property near Lakeside Country Club, between Inverness and Hernando.

Williams says weddings and receptions on the property are covered by state “agritourism” laws and exempt from local regulation. The county disagrees and said the activities are not allowed on agricultural property.

The injunction issue is related to one building, called the “white” barn, which houses wedding receptions.

According to the injunction request, Williams should have received a building permit prior to allowing receptions in the building, regardless of whether it’s agritourism or not because of its size.

“The safety concerns at issue are of the highest order,” the injunction lawsuit states. “Clearly, defendants’ failure to meet the Fire Code’s requirements endangers the safety and lives of persons attending events due to the risk of serious bodily injury or death from fire or smoke inhalation.”

Williams said he has not been served the injunction lawsuit. However, he provided the Chronicle with a report from the Inverness fire chief that says buildings comply with fire codes with some modifications, such as lighted fire exits and emergency lighting.

He also agreed to have a certified crowd manager on site for receptions.

Williams and the city have agreed to the annexation. The county, however, says it does not believe the annexation is legal and will ask a judge for a ruling if state-mandated mediation does not result in a resolution.

The county lawsuit also states no wedding receptions are planned until October, giving plenty of time for Williams to apply for building permits without an interruption in business.

Asked about that in an email Friday, Williams said there are 26 weddings and receptions scheduled at the venue through late October.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

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