The KC Pumpkin Patch, a popular destination for school field trips, has won a three-month fight to relocate to an acreage on Gardner Road.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
The Johnson County Commission voted 6-1 to approve a conditional use permit for activities at the pumpkin patch that faced fierce opposition from surrounding neighbors. More than 50 people packed the commission meeting room for a public hearing Thursday. Opponents had filed a protest petition against the permit, meaning the measure needed a super-majority of six yes votes to pass. Commissioner John Toplikar was the lone dissent.
The Pumpkin Patch is currently located on 62 acres near the intersection of 191st Street and Interstate 35. Owners Kirk and Julie Berggren were forced to move because of the changing development plans and land values near the new intermodal freight facility.
The permit allows the Berggrens to operate a you-pick farm and children’s activities for five years on 40-acres they plan to buy at 13875 Gardner Road. They had originally asked to have events for a winery and a night-time Halloween corn maze at the site but withdrew those proposals to satisfy the neighbors.
Their operation has numerous activities, including a zip line, petting zoo and hay bales. The county commission also gave permission for the Berggrens to have the air-compressed gourd gun they say is popular with children. But the Berggrens eliminated the larger pumpkin cannon. Neighbors worried about noise from those attractions.
Twenty-three people spoke both for and against the plan in a meeting that lasted around three hours.
Jordyn Beck of Overland Park urged the commission to approve the permit. Beck, a gymnast on scholarship at the University of Nebraska, said going to the pumpkin patch was “one of my favorite things to do in October.” The Berggrens have supported the gym where she trained, she said.
“I don’t know where I’d be today without the Pumpkin Patch as part of my childhood,” said Beck.
Dan Gassel of Overland Park also spoke of the good times his family has had visiting the farm for the past eight years, saying the outing is a chance for his kids to “unplug” from their usual toys. “It’s making memories,” he said.
But neighbors opposed to the Berggrens’ petition said the operation is more like an amusement park than a farm and would create traffic problems and destroy the peaceful nature of the area.
Erin Paulsen, who shares a fence line with the property, told the commission the noise from a gourd gun and other activities would spook the horses she trains. “Personally, I do not want those guns going off when I’m trying to train a two-year-old horse,” she said, especially if the horse is carrying a young rider.
Derek Hogan, another nearby property owner, cited figures used by opponents’ lawyers from a news report on the pumpkin patch. “Think of your neighbor two doors down having 40,000 to 100,000 visitors and tell me that’s not going to have a negative effect,” he said.
The Berggrens have been trying to relocate since being told the lease at the current location would not be renewed. The proximity of the new intermodal freight facility has changed the value of that land, and the owner wanted to explore other options for it, their lawyer said.
They found two possible locations, one in Douglas County and the other at 13875 Gardner Road. Eventually, they withdrew their proposal for the one in Douglas County to pursue the current one.
The pumpkin patch is open from mid-September through the first of November and usually draws about 2,500 visitors on the weekends. About 400 per day come during the week, often from school outings, according to the owners.
The property they will relocate to is vacant except for an outbuilding and seven acres of grape vines. The Berggrens’ original plan for a conditional use permit included a winery and a Halloween corn maze called the Fear Farm.
But those two items met particular opposition from neighbors. They objected to the Fear Farm haunted maze because of its hours—dusk to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The neighbors worried about teenage hijinks during those times.
Commissioners who supported the plan said it meets the criteria the county uses to judge what use is appropriate for land. Commissioner Steve Klika pointed out that the county has approved two similar pumpkin patches this year, plus a baseball practice field, a point that was also mentioned by the Berggrens’ lawyer, Curtis Holland.
Toplikar said he voted against the permit because the tourism aspect wouldn’t fit the character of the neighborhood.