KC Pumpkin Patch and Fear Farm owners seeking new site

10/29/2013 3:49 PM

10/29/2013 5:34 PM

The KC Pumpkin Patch and Fear Farm, a popular fall destination for school field trips and families, will soon be forced to pack up and move from its location at 191st Street near Interstate 35 in Gardner.

But to where?

That is the question owners Kirk and Julie Berggren consider as they struggle to get permission from local planners to open a new site.

The Berggrens are facing fierce opposition from potential neighbors in one proposed new location in Johnson County. And they’ve withdrawn another request to set up shop in Douglas County. In both cases, neighbors objected to the disruption they believed would come from having noisy busloads of kids and tourists right next door.

The family recently was told their lease at the location they’ve been at for 11 years wouldn’t be renewed because the new intermodal freight facility has made the land valuable enough that the landlord is considering other uses, said their lawyer, Curtis Holland.

So they set out on a search for other locations. Two caught their interest — one in Douglas County and the other at 13875 Gardner Road. They went to planners in both counties seeking permits for the activities that go with a pumpkin patch.

In Douglas County, they requested an agri-tourism permit for a spot on Kansas 33. That met with opposition and was eventually withdrawn to pursue the site on Gardner Road. In Johnson County, the request was for a conditional use permit that would allow events for the pumpkin patch and maze. They also asked that special events for a winery on the property be allowed.

The pumpkin patch operates from mid-September through the first of November and usually brings in 2,500 weekend visitors per day on weekends during the peak season. About 400 per day come during the weekdays, according to the application.

The maze would be open from dusk to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It was anticipated to draw about 400 visitors a night.

Although the Berggrens started out with a simple pumpkin picking business, they’ve grown and expanded to provide other activities for the kids who make a tradition of visiting every year, Holland said. The KC Pumpkin Patch also has a zip line, gourd cannon and petting farm, for instance. The Fear Farm is basically a haunted corn maze.

The 40-acre property they want to move to is vacant except for a Quonset hut in one corner and seven acres of grapevines. The Berggrens had hoped to hold special events associated with a winery on the property as well. Those would have included such things as wedding receptions and dinners, for example.

By the time the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board met to consider the permit in September, the proposal had attracted the attention of neighbors. Close to 30 showed up at the hearing, with several objecting to crowds, noise and after-hours teenage hijinks they feared the farm would generate.

Neighbors were particularly concerned about the nighttime activities at the Fear Farm and the traffic it would generate on Gardner Road, which has no shoulders.

Bob Paulson, an adjacent property owner, mentioned the road’s 45 mph speed limit and the noise. “I didn’t move out there because I wanted a lot of noise. I moved out there for quiet. I’m concerned with the people that are out there, disturbing my lifestyle. My dogs are going to tell me every time somebody pulls into that place. Every time,” he said during the zoning board hearing.

The zoning board recommended denial of the permit. But the Berggrens will go back a second time next month with a scaled-down plan that they hope will make it more acceptable to the neighborhood, Holland said.

Gone will be the Fear Farm with its night hours. Also off the table will be the winery special events, which became snarled in questions about whether food would be prepared on-site, comparable to a restaurant.

Holland said the Berggrens hope the changes will allay the neighbors’ fears about what has been a wholesome family entertainment business. He also pointed out that two other pumpkin patches have recently been approved in Johnson County.

The Johnson County Commission has final say about the permit, and its staff had recommended approval. But because of the Berggrens proposed changes, Holland asked that the commission send it back to zoning.

At the commission meeting last week, neighbors promised to continue to fight.

“We have nothing against these folks,” said James Hubbard, a lawyer representing the neighbors. But the hundreds of cars and buses pouring in during the season will be too disruptive. “This just isn’t the appropriate location for this type of operation,” he said.

“We will not change our opposition based on a few things being eliminated,” he said. “We will be at the zoning board to strongly oppose it.”

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