Planning Commission approves new village farm
- Published: March 31, 2022
A proposal for a small farm and adjacent farm goods store within the village was given the green light, with several caveats, by the Yellow Springs Planning Commission during its most recent meeting, conducted via Zoom video conference Tuesday, March 15.
Villager Rose Pelzl submitted the conditional use request for 8.2-acres fronted by West South College and South High streets. The official address is 944 S. High St. The property, zoned residential and adjacent to Gaunt Park, has been in Pelzl’s family for several generations and was once the site of Carr Nursery, owned and operated by William Carr, of whom Pelzl is a direct descendant.
The Planning Commission voted 4–1 in favor of allowing Pelzl to move forward with her plan. Commission member Stephen Green, who expressed doubts about the safety of the site and the venture’s viability, cast the lone dissenting vote.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, the immediate-neighboring couple on West South College Street spoke of long-term issues with disrepair and maintenance on the property as well as their concerns about potential noise, smells and unsanitary water runoff from a farm enterprise. All other public hearing participants, however, including neighbor and former executive director of Tecumseh Land Trust, Krista Magaw, and the assistant director of Agraria, Megan Bachman, spoke favorably of the proposal.
The farm and store plan
In her presentation to the Planning Commission, Pelzl said she co-owns the property with her spouse Jonny No, and her mother, Corinne Pelzl, and that she would be operating the farm with her spouse.
The conditional use application noted that, while the land is zoned residential, its history as a nursery sets a precedent for agricultural use.
“I consider myself as a steward of the land and take that very seriously,” Pelzl told commissioners.
“I’m not starting the farm to make a profit,” she added, indicating that she planned to continue with her full-time job as a Village employed meter reader.
She said the farm would serve several purposes for her: give her the opportunity to pursue a way of life that holds deep personal interest; allow her to maintain the property in a manner consistent with her ideals as a productive member of the community; and allow her to pay property taxes without selling the land for a housing development. She noted that the family has been keeping up with the tax bill by selling off individual lots over the past 10 years, and continuing that practice isn’t sustainable.
“I want to live in Yellow Springs the rest of my life,” Pelzl said. “I love this community.”
Her plan for the land includes establishing a garden area, planting various types of berries and nuts, keeping hens for egg production and maintaining honeybee hives. Her original request also included adding a small number of goats and pigs, but she said during the Planning Commission meeting that she would not pursue that idea given the next-door neighbors’ concerns.
The main lot is 6.7 acres, and the 1.5 additional acreage includes several smaller lots and vacated alleyways off Herman Street.
The proposed farm store involves construction of a 900-square-foot, or smaller, building to be located in front of the remnants of the former Carr Nursery greenhouse, with an entrance off South High Street. Pelzl plans to use the front half of the new building as retail space and the back half as a space with kitchen facilities to process products from the farm. She also proposed that the back space could be used for small agriculturally focused groups — such as beekeepers — to meet.
For the retail space, Pelzl’s hope is not only to sell items produced from her farm — such as eggs, honey, maple syrup, preserves, jams, herbal tea mixes and soaps — but also to offer sales space for other local food producers and artisans, according to her application.
She said she doesn’t want the enterprise to cause parking issues on South High Street and she will add spaces on the farm property if the need arises. The application specified six dedicated parking spaces. She said she anticipates that many visitors will walk or bike to the property.
As part of her conditional use application, Pelzl also asked the commission for approval to maintain up to 180 laying hens, with the eggs to be sold in the farm store and to local restaurants and groceries. The hens would graze within moveable solar-powered electric fencing, according to her application. She also sought to place up to 20 beehives on an acre south of Herman Street, but noted that the bee-keeping operation will be built slowly while she determines the most sustainable number of hives for the available land.
“Native pollinator habitat and forage is a priority,” she wrote in the application.
Pelzl’s application also said that her plan includes “cleaning up and renovating existing buildings for farm use” as well as removing honeysuckle and planting native species of shrubs and trees.
Broken glass and debris remain on the grounds from the former Carr greenhouse, which was destroyed by the 1974 tornado that decimated downtown Xenia; and a house foundation and some building debris remain from a Pelzl family-owned rental-property fire in 1991. Over time, the property has also accumulated other debris, including old cars and tires.
Pelzl, who did not have oversight of the property when the maintenance issues occurred, said her desire to clean up the property is affected by cost and the availability of funds.
Denise Swinger, the planning and zoning administrator for the Village, told the Planning Commission that Pelzl’s application was “the most detailed conditional use application I’ve ever seen.”
Swinger reported that the biggest concerns for Village staff were the odors and/or noise that might accompany pigs, goats and roosters. However, Pelzl does not intend to keep roosters, she added.
Commission member Gary Zaremsky said he had questions that involved the Planning Commission process. “If she wants to add pigs and goats later, would she have to come back?”
The answer, according to Swinger, is “yes.” “If in two or three years she wants to carve out additional parcels for sale, I assume she can do that?” Again, yes.
Zaremsky also asked for clarity on what items are permissible to be sold from the farm store, a question Green also expressed. Swinger said that “unfortunately” the zoning code does not specify.
Another issue for Zaremsky was parking.
“I feel like six spaces is inadequate,” he said, noting that if a group is meeting in the back space of the store, or people are using the kitchen while customers are in the front retail area, then more parking could be needed. Swinger noted that the property has room to add more parking.
And lastly, he wondered if clearing the property of glass and debris could be a condition of Planning Commission’s approval.
Green also expressed concern about the condition of the property, and questioned Pelzl’s ability as a co-owner to assure that a cleanup takes place. He also questioned Pelzl’s depth of knowledge about farming practices and understanding of the costs involved in maintaining a successful operation.
“How many eggs do you have to sell to break even?” he asked.
Pelzl said she has been consulting with farm experts for several years and is currently studying about best practices with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
“I put a lot of thought into the numbers I brought to you,” she said, before Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels and Clerk of Council Judy Kintner broke in to say that Green’s questioning was off base.
“It is not an appropriate question whether the business would thrive,” Parcels said.
Other conditional use petitioners who recently came before the Planning Commission did not have to answer to such questioning, Kintner added.
Green said he wanted to make sure that the farm is safe for visitors and isn’t a nuisance to neighbors.
“[The plan includes] 20 beehives right next to where kids are playing T-ball,” he said.
Beehives generally do not pose a risk to nearby properties, and Pelzl said that any dangerous areas of the property will not be open to visitors.
Commission alternate Scott Osterholm, filling in for Susan Stiles, who recused herself as an owner of one of the property’s recently sold lots, said he believes Pelzl’s plan offers “an improvement” on the property’s current state.
Although recused from the commissioners’ discussion and vote, Stiles spoke as a community member and neighbor of the property, expressing support for the project and adding her “appreciation” for Parcels and Kintner in qualifying Green’s questions.
“[Pelzl] isn’t required to have a business plan,” Stiles said in agreement with their statements.
Neighbors Jim and Rosemary Bailey, who live next door to the lot where the rental house burned down, expressed a degree of skepticism about the proposal.
“We’re generally supportive of Rose’s project,” Jim Bailey said, but the condition of the property has been an issue “for decades,” and the couple fears it won’t improve.
“The question of compliance seems to me fundamental,” Jim Bailey said.
Rosemary Bailey added that their property is downhill from the Pelzl land, and she worries about water runoff from the farm “creating unsanitary conditions.”
The couple requested that site cleanup and a 100-foot green buffer around the property be included as conditions for the farm’s approval.
Villager Kate Hamilton spoke in favor of the plan and added that she would be willing to work with neighbors to clear the property of debris.
“This is great,” she said of the proposal. “It’s within the vision of her ancestors. Carr’s Nursery is part of the history of Yellow Springs.”
High Street neighbor Krista Magaw said she looks forward to patronizing the store.
“The idea we could get honey and eggs across the street is a wonderful thing,” she said, adding that Pelzl has spent a lot of time consulting with experts.
“She’s someone who’s really done her research,” Magaw said.
Dustin and Jordan Mapel agreed, adding that operations such as the farm Pelzl proposes benefit the entire community.
“Local food sovereignty is important and will continue to be important to us,” Dustin Mapel said.
“I’ve been doing urban farming my whole life, Jordan Mapel added, asserting that Pelzl is following good practices.
“She’s being really diligent in her planning,” she said.
The couple also said they are willing to help clean up the property and be of assistance as the farm develops.
Speaking as “a private citizen,” News reporter Jessica Thomas said she also was willing to donate time and money to the venture.
“I think this is the best thing the Village of Yellow Springs can do for itself,” she said.
Representing the Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice, Megan Bachman said, “we strongly support this plan.”
The presence of local sources for fresh produce and other farm products strengthens the community, she said.
“We’re a rural area but most of the crops around us aren’t feeding us,” she said.
Kreeger moved that the commission approve Pelzl’s application with three conditions: that the complaints filed over the years concerning debris on the property be resolved; that the farm animals be limited to hens only; and that a 100-foot buffer of plants and trees be included around the property’s periphery.
Pelzl asked if her application could be modified to exclude two lots that have been the source of many of the complaints, saying she feared that the cost of cleanup would indefinitely delay getting the farm running.
Kreeger, however, kept the language of her motion the same, and commission Chair Frank Doden seconded it. No other motion was presented, and Zaremsky and Osterholm joined them in voting “yes.”
This week, Pelzl said she has been “overwhelmed” by the community support and offers of help she’s received.
“I’m excited about starting the farm and doing the work,” she said.
In other Planning business, March 15:
The commission voted unanimously to approve a request from villager Joel Levinson to use his single-family home on Paxson Drive for temporary guest lodging.
Levinson said that his desire is to rent out the house through the Airbnb company when he and his family go on vacation to help subsidize their travels. He anticipates being away 10–20% of the year, but added that if someone is interested in renting the house for a full year, the family would consider taking “a sabbatical year.”