Rocky Fork Enterprise

Educational garden attorney: Sunapple Farms might not need approval

By

The Gahanna Planning Commission on April 10 was scheduled to vote on fencing to screen neighbors from Sunapple Farms, a proposed educational garden at Northeast School.

Commission chairman Donald Shepherd asked neighbors during an April 3 workshop to let the city know their preference between a wooden stockade fence and a wire, transparent one.

"Neighbors, I'm willing to listen to what you want," he said. "Notify the clerk and say what you prefer. Personally, I don't care but want to be conscious of your feelings."

David Hodge, an attorney recently retained by the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said a conditional-use permit might not even be needed to allow a portion of 3.9 acres at 500 N. Hamilton Road to be used for a garden.

Hodge said he has reviewed Gahanna's code and case law for similar issues.

"The zoning of the property is an institutional zoning classification, and that classification allows a school and institution for educational purpose," he said. "Uses for educational purposes include not only what's inside school walls but outside. The purpose for this garden/farm is for educational purposes."

With that information in mind, he said, the conditional-use permit request likely will be withdrawn.

The plan for Sunapple Farms is to allow adults and youth populations from the FCBDD to grow herbs, produce, cut flowers and fruit.

In Gahanna, FCBDD operates a school-age program at Northeast School and an adult program at ARC Industries East.

Hodge said the FCBDD would work with surrounding property owners, even if a conditional-use permit isn't required.

Teresa Kobelt, director of FCBDD and CEO of ARC Industries, said she has thought a lot about feedback from neighbors at the March 27 commission meeting.

"There were several themes -- the overall footprint and the fence being close to property lines," she said. "The fence is now about 30 feet from property lines. The field spaces are also smaller. Instead of 3.9 acres, there's actually 1 1/4 acre of (production) field spaces and high tunnels."

A revised plan also excludes other issues that bothered neighbors, including bees to pollinate crops, a compost pile, an above-ground storage tank and a cistern.

Kobelt said one staff member would be assigned to every six to eight individuals working at the farm.

"Hours will likely be when we're open, 7 a.m. to 5-ish,"she said. "We have a summer center at Northeast School. The greenhouse will allow us to have programming, potentially, throughout the year."

Adam Welly, of Wayward Seed Farm in Marysville, will assist with the operation.

He said Sunapple would be considered a four-season farm, with crop production year-round.

Because it's a small space, Welly said, specialty crops like onions, beets, greens and shallots would be grown.

"We won't grow what needs larger spaces, like pumpkins and corn," he said.

Because it will be a certified organic operation, Welly said, a minimum 20-foot buffer will be needed. He said an annual inspection also would be done because of the organic certification.

Welly said an agricultural well is under consideration as a viable source for clean water.

Commission member Joe Keehner said he's concerned about the elimination of bees from the plan that would have been used to pollinate crops.

"Pollinators are valuable," he said. "I think the neighbors freaked out because they didn't know what it was. I'm concerned about using sustainable practices. For education, you want to be on the cutting edge."

Comments