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Antioch College Farm conditionally approved for continued operations

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After hearing from many concerned neighbors at their Aug. 5 meeting, Village Council members unanimously voted to allow Antioch College to create a farm on its property as a conditional rather than permitted use, meaning that farm leaders will need to seek approval from Planning Commission for future changes, thus giving neighbors a chance to weigh in at each stage.

The vote was 4–0, with Rick Walkey absent. While Council President Judith Hempfling initially supported the farm as a permitted use, she ultimately voted for the conditional zoning. Lori Askeland said she had been swayed by neighbors’ concerns, and also voted for conditional use, joining Karen Wintrow and Gerry Simms.

“If we make it conditional, we give the community a chance to have impact if it’s not going well,” Simms said. “If it’s permanent, there is no control.”

The vote was only a partial victory for the college, which had sought a change in the zoning code that would allow the farm as a permitted use with conditions, meaning that the college would not need additional approval to make changes, such as adding animals or structures. But it was a victory for the neighbors present, most of whom voiced opposition to the college’s recently announced plans to add large farm animals to its sustainable farm efforts, and sought more input into the process.

Neighbors cited the farm’s potential to disrupt the neighborhood with farm smells and sounds, along with concerns that they as stakeholders had not been included in the college’s planning process.

“Like so many issues with high emotion and contention, this is a communication problem, especially with those most affected,” said neighbor Sylvia Ellison.

About 50 villagers attended the meeting, including many neighbors to the Antioch College “golf course” where the farm is being created.

Almost all speakers identified themselves as supporters of the college, but felt that pigs and cows in neighboring areas is going too far.

“This will substantially alter the character of the neighborhood,” said Ryan Pierson, who, with his wife Hilary and family, lives adjacent to the farm area. “It’s difficult to argue against a sustainable farm, but the question is whether a farm has merit in a neighborhood.”

But the sustainable farm operation is a critical part of the renewed college’s new curriculum, according to Glen Helen Director Nick Boutis, who also oversees the farm. Because sustainability is a focus of the new college, it makes sense to address the issue through the production of food, including “a host of issues related to what we grow, how we grow it, how we eat,” he said.

The farm controversy began several weeks ago, when Farm Manager Kat Christen presented Council with the college’s future plan to add large animals and new structures to the farm during a special meeting on the zoning code update. The number of potential animals reported to the community then was a misunderstanding of the college’s intention, Christen said on Monday, stating the college would raise animals on only 20 rather than the full 30 acres of the farm. The smaller number of animals that Christen presented Monday included up to 35 chickens per acre or cows or sheep up to 1,400 pounds (one cow or 17 sheep per acre) or pigs up to 500 pounds (two pigs per acre).

But according to Council member Karen Wintrow, the level of detail that Council was being asked to approve for the farm as a permitted use goes beyond the scope or expertise of that body.

“We want the farm there but we’re not the people and this is not the venue to work this out,” she said.

Overall, she said, the zoning code update liberalizes many aspects of the current zoning code, but also provides checks and balances in the form of conditional rather than permitted use zoning.

If something holds the potential to disrupt a neighborhood, “conditional use allows the public to come forward to hear more specifics,” Wintrow said.

A few community speakers expressed strong support for the farm. Marianne MacQueen, who identified herself as not a neighbor of the farm, said she would like to be one.

“I think the farm is so exciting,” she said, asking if any of the neighbors at the meeting would like to trade houses.

But several neighbors cited not just the lack of communication from the college, but the lack of a clear plan as a part of their discomfort at being asked to add a farm to the neighborhood.

The college intends to remedy the neighbors’ distress as soon as possible, according to Antioch Facilities Manager Reggie Stratton.

“The college has not done a good job reaching out to the community,” he said. “We are going to reach out and try to do a better job.”

He said in upcoming months, the college will present its master plan at both a Council meeting and a community meeting.

Council’s action allows Antioch to continue its current level of farm operation, which includes crop production and maintaining several sheep and 50 chickens and ducks.

In other Council business:

• Council decided to finish its review of the zoning code update at its Aug. 19 meeting. Council may also take an initial vote at that meeting.

• Regarding a question from Anna McClure on the status of the Village’s investigation into the June overuse of herbicide, Village Solicitor Chris Conard said that Manager Laura Curliss has found that the practice of applying herbicides yearly to the pool appears to go back to at least 2007. However, the recent moratorium on the practice continues. Other details of the investigation are not yet complete, he said.

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