Some Northeast School neighbors don't believe Gahanna is the right place for Sunapple Farms, a proposed educational 4-acre garden.
The Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities has applied for conditional uses to allow a portion of a 3.9-acre parcel at 500 N. Hamilton Road to be used for agricultural purposes to launch a project called Sunapple Farms. The plan would allow adults and youth populations from the FCBDD to grow produce, herbs, cut flowers and fruit.
A variance also has been requested to allow a fence to exceed 6 feet in height.
Teresa Kobelt, director of FCBDD and CEO of ARC Industries, said a mission is to help people to live, learn and work in their community.
In Gahanna, FCBDD operates a school-age program at Northeast School and an adult program at ARC Industries East.
Kobelt said ARC Industries has been a longtime community partner of the Franklin County board. As a nonprofit business, ARC creates jobs and training opportunities for adults who are eligible for county board services.
In 2012 alone, she said, ARC employed more than 1,400 adults with developmental disabilities, and almost a fourth of those employment opportunities were in Gahanna.
When it came to her attention that about 4 acres of county land on the Northeast School site were no longer being used as soccer fields, Kobelt said, she looked at it as an opportunity to grow lots of herbs, as Gahanna is the herb capital of Ohio.
Throughout central Ohio, she said, more people are interested in sustainable farming.
Kobelt said the farm would "grow growers."
"We will be growing local, sustainable food and the Gahanna economy," she said. "We are referring to our field of dreams as Sunapple Gardens. Sunapple is a tiny little division of ARC Industries, created to connect people with sustainable skills and marketable talents with the greater community, enabling both to flourish and grow."
She said Sunapple isn't only about improving the lives of people with disabilities, but it's also about working with the community to improve the lives of everyone in it.
Kobelt said the farm would be managed and maintained by a full-time production farmer and staffed by FCBDD, with the goal of producing an abundant variety of locally grown, chemical-free produce, fruit, cut flowers and herbs following organic growing practices.
Millwood Court resident David Williams said his property backs up to the proposed project. He takes issue with proposed fencing that he describes as looking like "chicken wire."
Williams said he would like the fence to be wooden down one side, buffering his property.
Haversham Drive resident Joe Mullan asked how many hogs would be on the property.
"Hogs are agriculture," he said. "They could have chickens, cattle and sheep. This has to be tied down. How often and who will inspect the property to make sure whatever plans are followed and that hogs aren't out there?"
Kobelt said the organization has no plans for livestock.
"It's an opportunity for training to grow food," she said. "We go through rigorous inspections."
Wickham Way resident Gary Stewart said he's concerned about the lack of a buffer for homes on the east side. He said preliminary plans also call for a compost pile that would be visible from his back door.
"I see that as a quality-of-life issue," Stewart said.
Haversham Court South resident Marc Horowitz said a letter he received described an urban garden, but he doesn't view 4 acres as a garden. He requested an environmental-impact study.
Medwin Place resident Dayna Fox said she is worried about aesthetics, saying her back door is about 10 feet from the proposed fence. She said the property is higher than hers, and she is concerned about drainage.
Commission member Jennifer Price asked about potential odors that would come from a compost pile, where produce would be sold and what crops would be grown.
Others wanted more information about a 10,000-gallon underground cistern that's part of the plan.
Commission member Joe Keehner said he would like to hear more about beehives.
Kobelt said beehives were proposed in the original concept to pollinate such bramble fruits as blackberries and raspberries.
"The commission has received some concern (from neighbors), questioning the beehives," she said. "We don't feel having the bees is a deal breaker."
Keehner said he wants to hear more about the value of bees in the operation.
"You said no sales on the property," he said. "Why not sell to local residents in Gahanna? Why not sell to the neighbors who could get it fresh from the backyard? Why not have a farmers market every couple weeks?"
Keehner said he's impressed with the scope of the project.
The commission scheduled an April 3 workshop to further discuss details of the plan.