Douglas County commissioners said tonight they are willing to allow a limited self-pick pumpkin patch business in a rural area east of Baldwin City, but they want strict conditions on the business' agritourism permit to make sure it doesn't become a nuisance to its neighbors.
After a lengthy public hearing, commissioners told Kirk and Julie Berggren, owners of KC Pumpkin Patch, to work with the county's planning office to come up with a list of conditions on their proposed permit that would limit the scope and impact of the business they plan to move from Johnson County to southeast Douglas County.
“We all support agritourism, but my concern is to get an assurance in my own mind that this activity that we're permitting in an agricultural district does not get to the level of commercial activity in which noise and traffic disrupts the rural lifestyle,” Commissioner Jim Flory said.
The proposal by the Berggrens, who live in Overland Park, calls for establishing a you-pick pumpkin patch business on a 40-acre farm on Kansas Highway 33, south of U.S. Highway 56.
The business is currently located near Garder, in Johnson County, but the Berggrens say it needs to move because a large intermodal transportation facility is being developed near that area.
But neighbors in the rural area along K-33 said the business goes beyond the definition of “agritourism” and would more accurately be described as a large commercial business that would generate too much traffic, noise, crime and other problems for their pastoral community.
The Berggrens indicated in their application that the pumpkin patch would be open only during daytime hours and would only involve picking pumpkins, fishing and bird watching.
But neighbors noted the current business in Johnson County has many more activities such as zip lines, pumpkin and gourd “cannons” that visitors fire at targets, and loud nighttime music and entertainment. They also noted the site plan calls for a 10-acre parking lot designed to hold more than 800 passenger vehicles, plus more than a dozen buses.
“In my opinion, the pumpkin patch may fit this broad definition of agritourism,” said Jim Hendershot, who lives two lots north of the proposed site. “I doubt the intent (of the county policy) was to allow a commercial business to operate, exploiting the purpose of agritourism.”
In January, Douglas County adopted new zoning codes that allow property owners in areas zoned for agricultural use to operate certain kinds of businesses designed to attract visitors and tourism without having to seek a zoning change. But for events that attract more than 100 visitors, the code requires a public hearing and approval by the County Commission.
Curtis Holland, an attorney for the Berggrens, described the business as “wholesome family farm activities.”
“It's a place where parents and families can bring their kids, enjoy the outdoors, pick some pumpkins,” Holland said.
But Michelle Koos, who identified herself as a police officer and who lives north of the pumpkin patch, said it's the kind of business that could attract criminal activity, including pedophiles.
“Pedophiles go to where the children are, and this type of business creates a target-rich environment,” said Koos, who declined to name which police department she works for.
Kirk Berggren flatly denied that claim, saying his business has specific policies to protect children's safety, such as closing all entrances and exits whenever a child is reported lost and not allowing anyone to enter or leave until the child is found.
Julie Berggren insisted the county should grant the permit because their business fits within the county's definition of agritourism.
“We have done everything honestly and openly. We have followed the law," she said.
Commissioners told the Berggrens to work with the county's Zoning and Codes Department to develop a list of conditions and restrictions that would protect the interests of the neighbors. They plan to revisit the proposal when the commission meets Sept. 25.