Kobach opposes specialty meat shop in rural Douglas County; chef says his proposal is being mischaracterized

A sketch of a plan for The Burning Barrel, a specialty meat processing shop, as shown in a Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission Report.

Brian Strecker’s plans to build a 640 square-foot building in the middle of 30 acres to house his new specialty meat store were close to the finish line.

Strecker, a well-known Lawrence chef who ran the kitchen at Pachamamas for 13 years, said The Burning Barrel west of Lecompton would process and sell hams, sausages, pork and beef, just enough to provide himself and a partner and possibly two other employees a living.

He even got the approval of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.

But an unanticipated snag — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has had his own controversy with county building codes — has helped create a flap over the business since the commission gave its approval July 22 for a conditional use permit on a 6-2 vote.

Why the secretary of state?

Kobach owns a one-bedroom house on 160 acres, less than a mile from where The Burning Barrel would be located and voiced concerns that the business would ruin the bucolic beauty of the area.

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“This is a real dramatic alteration to the county comprehensive plan,” Kobach told the Planning Commission at the meeting to discuss The Burning Barrel permit.

Kobach described Strecker’s business as a “hog processing plant” and said it violates the county’s agriculture zoning requirements.

Kobach, who isn’t a resident of Douglas County, told the commission he was representing “both himself and an organization that may become involved in this. That organization is my law firm. We’ll see.”

Kobach also has become a spokesman for others who oppose Strecker’s business, said Jamin Nally, owner of Aunt Netter’s Cafe in Lecompton.

Strecker said he was surprised to see Kobach at the meeting.

“To have the secretary of state at a farm business creation meeting was a little shocking to me,” Strecker said.

The permit the commission approved but that still needs a nod from the Douglas County Commission has several restrictions on the proposed business at 292 N. 2100 Road:

• It allows only four full-time employees to work at the business.

• Commercial vehicles that exceed five tons are limited to no more than two trips a day.

• Odors, noise, lights and vibrations associated with the production may not be seen, heard or felt beyond the property boundary.

• Slaughter of animals is not permitted on the property.

In addition, the permit requires that a new septic system be installed before the business opens and must be approved by the Lawrence-Douglas County health department.

Lecompton Mayor Sandra Jacquot said during the commission meeting that several area residents were confused as to how the property would be used. They believed that a large meat-packing plant was about to be built and that would bring horrible odors and massive truck traffic.

But Jacquot acknowledged that under the permit, “it doesn’t sound like the business can get larger.”

After the meeting a petition opposing the business was signed by the owners of the seven properties that are within a 1,000 feet of the proposed business and submitted to the Planning Commission staff.

That now requires the Douglas County Commission to vote unanimously to approve the permit. The County Commission is expected to discuss the petition Wednesday at a public meeting.

Even as Kobach is arguing that the business violates the county’s agriculture zoning regulations, Kobach has had his own recent county code problems.

Earlier this year, a Douglas County codes inspector discovered Kobach was building a 1,250 square-foot house inside a 2,500 square-foot metal building without a construction permit.

Although there were numerous county code violations, Kobach did not have to pay a required fee for beginning construction without the permit, he did not have to tear up the floor for a plumbing inspection, and he still does not have an approved water source.

In the wake of that controversy, the County Commission has asked staff to look into hiring an independent consultant to examine the county’s zoning and codes department. The County Commission is expected to discuss that later this month.

“I’m actually trying to go through the right procedure, and he didn’t at all,” Strecker said. “He is an elected official. It really detracts from his standing in the community.”

Strecker, who is a sixth-generation Kansan, said the business would be eco-friendly and support local farmers who raise natural and grass-fed heritage breed hogs and cattle.

Strecker said there would not be a retail store and his sales would be directly to restaurants, grocery stores and others.

In addition, the waste product will be minimal because he will use close to 100 percent of the animals through various recipes and cooking techniques, he said.

Strecker said he has several engineers and architects helping him design the 640 square-foot building that will be made out of large metal shipping containers. It will replace an old mobile home that is sitting on the property now.

“We are not going to be an eyesore,” Strecker said. “This seems to be turning into a witch hunt.”

Kobach has helped organize community meetings, including one that was held at 8:30 a.m. last Saturday at Kroeger’s Country Meats before the store opened, according to several people including Nally, owner of Aunt Netter’s Cafe.

Nally is also the chairman of the Lecompton Planning Council. He said he did not have a problem with The Burning Barrel but because it was so controversial, he declined to comment further.

After Strecker learned that the meeting was going to take place, he called the owners of Kroeger’s, which describes itself as “an old-fashioned meat market,” to ask if he could attend to answer questions and help clear up any misinformation. But he was told he was not welcome, he said.

Then he called Kobach, who was going to be the main speaker at the meeting and is perceived to be acting as the opposition’s representative, to ask if he could attend.

“I talked to him in detail about what we were going to do,” Strecker said. “But he said the meeting was only for landowners and residents.”

While Strecker is a resident of Douglas County he does not yet own The Burning Barrel property but has a pending contract to buy it.

Linda Kroeger, an owner of Kroeger’s Country Meats, confirmed the meeting took place but asked that a reporter talk to her daughter, Robin Kofford.

Kofford, however, said she had no comment.

“If you want to talk about sausages, I would have a lot to say about sausages,” Kofford said.

Kobach could not be reached for comment.