Rocky Fork Enterprise

Sunapple Gardens plan returns with new design featuring lower fence

With height of fence lowered, variance no longer required

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This concept design for Sunapple Gardens and Education Center at Northeast School was presented by Moody-Nolan Inc.

The Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities is scheduled to return to Gahanna's Planning Commission in August with plans that show the exact distance from neighboring residential properties to the planting areas of the proposed Sunapple Gardens and Education Center.

A new concept design for Sunapple Gardens, 500 N. Hamilton Road, was unveiled during a July 17 Planning Commission workshop.

Since March, the developmental disabilities board has been working on plans for the educational gardens beside the Northeast School, where adults and youth participating in agency programs would grow produce, herbs, cut flowers and fruit.

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

The initial plans for Sunapple were opposed by surrounding neighbors, who said their property values would decrease because of the gardens.

David Hodge, attorney for the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said an informal meeting was held with neighbors in May to address concerns.

"There were lots of questions and answers," he said. "We feel like some concerns were addressed. An architect has put together a nice and thoughtful plan for how the garden will be laid out and the education center itself."

Jean Gordon, of Moody-Nolan Inc., said a 6-foot transparent deer fence would be installed around the gardens and a wooded buffer and hedge/wildflower plantings near neighbors. Deciduous trees would line the gardens along Hamilton Road.

"Each square is one quarter acre of planting area," he said. "There are five gothic-frame greenhouses, and the green rectangle is an education center."

On the west side of the education building is a proposed porch, ADA raised planting beds, a pergola, fruit trees and a sensory garden with scented and textured plants and flowers.

"We'll have herbs," Gordon said. "That's important here. We'll have budding fruit trees. When you come out of the (school) building, they will have a hard surface to get to the education building. It will be safe for them."

Planning Commission member Joe Keehner said he likes most of the plan, but he also favors bees and composting.

"If you're going to be educating people about planting things and sustainability, it doesn't make sense not to have an area for composting," he said. "I think the notion of bee hives would also make sense. Those are two significant factors in growing food.

"The state of the bees in the U.S. has been in travail. To have a holistic education system looking at growing food, I think that should be considered down the road once the neighbors feel comfortable with the aesthetics."

Teresa Kobelt, director of the FCBDD and CEO of ARC Industries, said the intention was to have a business related to composting as part of the original plan.

"That's what's gone from the plan," she said. "You're right; composting is necessary. It's not part of the business plan."

Hodge agreed with Keehner.

"We want to be good neighbors," he said. "If people are concerned about compost and bees, it needs to be taken a step at a time. Today isn't the day. It's not going to happen right away."

Commission member Kristin Rosan asked if the wooded buffer would block neighbors from seeing the greenhouses, excluding winter. She also asked why hedge/wildflowers were chosen around the eastern edge rather than something more substantial in height.

Gordon said the hedge is to have something visually pleasant.

Commission chairman Donald Shepherd said he wants to see the distance between the planting areas and property lines of homeowners, on the east and north sides, detailed.

Because the new plan calls for a 6-foot fence, no variance is needed. A fence variance was requested with the previous plan. The commission will consider only design review for the proposal.

Millwood Court resident Judy Horch said she believes in the mission of Sunapple.

"I'm not anti-Sunapple," she said. "I'm anti-plastic wind tunnels."

Horch said the Hamilton Road corridor plan calls for high-quality materials and aesthetic landscaping.

"I don't feel plastic gothic tunnels constitute as high-quality building material," she said.

Her husband, Phil Horch, said the plan has been improved and the agency has listened to neighbors.

"The fence has been lowered," he said. "I'll be interested to see if a 6-foot fence can keep the deer out. At one time, I saw 16 deer by our house. They have the ability to jump."

Kobelt has said a mission of FCBDD and ARC Industries is to help people to live, learn and work in their community. She 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, ARC employed more than 1,400 adults with developmental disabilities, and almost a fourth of those employment opportunities were in Gahanna, Kobelt said.