September 15, 2014

KC Pumpkin Patch earns hard-fought permit

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Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
The KC Pumpkin Patch is moving, but the pumpkin cannon won’t be making the trip across town.
That’s the decision members of the board of county commissioners reached after hours of debate about whether to allow KC Pumpkin Patch to operate at 13875 Gardner Road next season.
The county commission offered its blessing on Dec. 19 following more than two hours of debate and despite a protest petition from neighbors. Kirk and Julie Berggren, owners of the KC Pumpkin Patch, have operated the popular attraction at 29755 W. 191st Street for the last 11 years. Their lease wasn’t renewed for next season, in part, because of anticipated growth and the current location’s proximity to the intermodal, their attorney Curtis Holland explained.
The Berggrens initially planned to move the attraction to a 40-acre site along Kansas Highway 33 in southeast Douglas County. However, the Overland Park couple withdrew their request for a permit there after officials stipulated that the pumpkin patch only allow fishing, bird watching and pumpkin-picking at the site, along with other stipulations.
The Berggrens then opted to move to a site between Gardner and Olathe on north Gardner Road.
Holland said he has represented much more controversial projects in the past.
“It’s a pumpkin patch,” he told commissioners in a presentation that lasted more than 40 minutes. “It’s a seasonal business. Eleven months out of the year, there’s nothing there.”
Holland presented a list of supporters, which included several Johnson County school districts and charitable organizations like Safe Home and TLC.
The owners of neighboring properties vehemently opposed the move.
Two attorneys, representing owners of neighboring properties, asked county commissioners to deny a request for a conditional use permit for 38 acres on north Gardner Road. The Dec. 19 commission meeting was a final stop after neighbors filed an official protest petition opposing the permit. The petition required that the permit could only be issued with a super-majority, or six of seven, vote of the commissioners.
Opponents also opposed the project at Northwest Johnson County Consolidated Zoning Board meetings.
Jim Hubbard represented several families who own property near the proposed pumpkin patch site. Hubbard said the pumpkin patch isn’t an agricultural tourism business. It’s a theme park.
He presented a list of 73 possible activities, offered to county staff by the Berggrens, that would occur on the property during business hours. The list includes you-pick pumpkins, haunted barn, a petting zoo, foot-pedaled go-carts, corn maze and concessions.
Holland said the Berggrens were required to submit a list of all of the possible activities they may want to do on the property, so they wouldn’t need to seek permission for them in the future from the county.
“I don’t recall the last time I was on a farm, seeing an ATM machine,” he said.
Holland took issue with the suggestion that the pumpkin patch is an amusement park. The Kansas Department of Commerce issued the KC Pumpkin Patch a certificate of agri-tourism, he said.
Hubbard said anyone can apply and receive such a certificate, which he said are issued as a way of limiting liability for such properties.
John Duggan, an attorney for several other neighbors, said the KC Pumpkin Patch as agri-tourism is a ruse. He noted that the vast majority of activities to be offered at KC Pumpkin Patch are not agricultural in nature.
“We’re trying to slam a square peg into a round hole,” Duggan told commissioners and a packed room of onlookers.
Duggan said a major concern of neighbors is that the property will use outhouses. Access to sanitary sewer systems isn’t an option, and according to the permit application, the Berggrens anticipate serving 40,000 visitors during a six-week period each year. He also sited concerns with overflow parking.
Duggan also voiced concerns about a horse farm located next to the patch. The horse farm owner told the commission she is worried about putting children on horses near the noise generated at KC Pumpkin Patch. As a horse trainer, she said her busiest time of year coincides with Halloween and the patch’s busiest time of year.
“My clients have expensive horses,” Duggan said. “They are worried someone could feed them something.”
Holland said the Berggrens are only asking for fair and equal treatment under the law. The board of county commissioners recently approved conditional use permits for two other pumpkin patches in Johnson County – the Patch at the Farm near Lanesfield Museum, and Hickory Creek Ranch, a pumpkin patch at 199th and Lackman Road.
Both locations are zoned as the proposed KC Pumpkin Patch location is.
Hubbard said those applications should likely have been denied as well, except no one filed a protest petition in those cases. The current zoning would not allow a fruit stand or farmers market in any of the pumpkin patch sites in Johnson County, Hubbard said.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Hubbard said.
He said 100 percent of the surrounding owners oppose locating the pumpkin patch at 13875 N. Gardner Road. Hubbard also took issue with a traffic study that suggested that
the current roads near the patch can handle the additional traffic generated by the entertainment venue.
Dozens of people spoke in favor and against allowing the patch to operate on north Gardner Road.
“The applicant has tried very hard to turn this into a popularity contest,” Hubbard told members of the county commission. Hubbard said the Berggrens sent mass emails asking proponents of the pumpkin patch to attend the standing-room-only Dec. 19 meeting.
Hubbard’s presentation included several photos of the existing pumpkin patch in Gardner. The photos were dated Dec. 13.
“That looks pretty junky to me,” he said showing photos of piles of rotting pumpkins and tables. “They’re here today saying they run a nice operation.”
Holland, later said the conditions at the pumpkin patch on Dec. 13 weren’t normal as the Berggrens are in the process of clearing the property as their lease is up at the end of December.
Six of seven commissioners agreed to issue a five-year conditional use permit, although county staff had only recommended a three-year permit. The other Johnson County patches received five-year permits. Only John Toplikar, who represents the area where the pumpkin patch is moving, voted against issuing the permit. Stipulations of the permit will eliminate the cannon gun and nighttime activities at the patch, like the Fear Farm. The gourd gun, an air-powered gourd hurler, will be allowed. The Berggrens’ application originally requested a wine-tasting and winery on the new property, but that request was withdrawn earlier in the application process.
Earl Allen, who farms land adjacent to KC Pumpkin Patch’s current location, offered advice to the patch’s soon-to-be neighbors.
“They will be an asset to the area,” Allen said. “Give it a little time. You’ll be out there driving the tractor and pulling the kids around, because you will love to see the joy on the kids’ faces.”

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