Residents resist permit for HES farm project

? Planning Commission tables issue for a month

The initiative to develop a school farm behind Hills?boro High School met with strong resistance from several residents and landowners from the neighborhood during a meeting of the Hills?boro Planning Commis?sion Thursday night.

Around 20 people, plus commission members, crowded into the city council meeting room either to present the project, object to it, or observe the interaction. By the end of the 21?2-hour meeting, the commission tabled the issue with the intent of having a second public hearing Jan. 29.

The specific purpose of the meeting was for the commission to consider a request from USD 410 for a conditional-use permit that would be required to proceed with the project.

In his presentation, HES Principal Evan Yoder said the purpose of the school farm is to give students a hands-on way of understanding where their food comes from, and learning about the responsibility of caring for animals.

He said school farms often reach young students who otherwise are disengaged with the emphasis on school testing.

?We need to get back to hands-on common sense kind of thing so we can send out a generation of kids that will be veterinarians, mechanics?people who can use their hands, use their heads and not just be test takers,? Yoder said. ?That?s one thing that has motivated me to do something with this whole project.?

Several people in attendance said what the school was doing with gardening was commendable, but bringing farm animals into town would be objectionable for people who live nearby.

A primary concern was the potential for unpleasant odors because of animal manure, which likely would also increase the fly population.

Yoder responded to that concern with several points:

? the farm will include relatively few animals, and may exclude pigs, which were of most concern;

? as part of the program, students are assigned daily farm chores, one of which is to clean the pens?actually a favorite task at other school farms;

? the manure will be mixed with soil for use as compost for the school gardens, thus greatly reducing the possibilities of unpleasant odors.

?It?s an important thing to me that we?ve got to keep this a presentable place?to look good, smell good, not attract flies or rodents or those kind of things, and we can use that (manure) back in our garden as compost to improve our soil,? Yoder said.

One resident asked why the school didn?t consider locating the school farm at the county fairgrounds.

Superintendent Steve Noble said transporting 300 students to and from the fairgrounds would require five to six buses, bus drivers, plus fuel, and would create a significant disruption in the school day.

Yoder said having the program readily accessible to students is a key factor in its success.

The owner of farm ground near the proposed location said the school farm would create security issues; she called the proposed farm ?an attractive nuisance? for people with mischievous intentions.

The landowner added that if the school animals were to get out of their enclosures and onto her land, she would call law enforcement to arrest people for trespassing if they were on her land trying to round them up.

The project was cited as an expensive venture during a time when school funding is tight, and one of the neighboring residents said he believed the project was already a ?done deal.?

Yoder responded to both concerns by saying the project would be funded through private donations, not public funds, and it would not move forward until the money was in hand.

One resident responded: ?I can tell you, you haven?t heard the last of it if you put this (school farm) in here. You don?t have any idea.?

City Administrator Larry Paine informed those in attendance that the public has an avenue to respond if the project is not maintained according to the specific conditions listed in the conditional-use permit.

?You would have a recourse after a certain period of time,? Paine said. ?I?ve not yet run into a practical case like this, but it?s one in which the conditional-use permits allows a complaint to come back (to the city?s attention for enforcement).?

At one point in the meeting, commission member Frank Johnson made the motion to approve USD 410?s request, given that the district has complied with every request of the city to qualify for the permit.

But the motion died for a lack of a second as the interaction resumed.

Members of the Hillsboro Planning Commission are: Cynthia Fleming, chair; Alan Goldsby, Harvey Ray, Gari-Ann Patzwald, June Shreve, Frank Johnson, Gary Tibbetts and Eric Driggers.

The citizens who signed the attendance record were: Steve Noble, Ben Steketee, Jim Regier, Doug Wright, Dana Wright, Karl G. Jost, Louis Maurer, Daniel Soldan, Dorothy Soldan, Wilmer Bartel, Darlene Bartel, Evan Yoder, Sonya Roberts, Rickey Roberts, Ervin Ediger, Dale Dalke and Laverne Esau.