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Greenhouse: green light from the county; red from the residents

On March 18, 2014, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved the revised application for a large-scale greenhouse in Black Forest ó the Minibelly greenhouse project, located south of Shoup Road and east of Lindsey Lane. A nonprofit group, the Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan, has been formed to oppose the project, which, they said, is commerce in the middle of a residential area.The original Minibelly project application sought approval for a 51,830 square-foot facility, measuring 349-feet-long, 145-feet-wide and 15-feet-tall, which would be built on Lindsey Lane. The BOCC first heard the application Feb. 25, 2014, and moved the item to the March meeting.The applicant, Black Forest Mission LLC, presented revisions to the BOCC in March. The revisions included moving the project from the originally proposed area and splitting the facility into three smaller ones, each measuring about 21,000 square feet. The commissioners approved the project in a 3-2 vote, with Sallie Clark and Darryl Glenn opposed.One of the three facilities has already been built, the other two will be phased in.The current site of the greenhouse is zoned rural residential; and, according to the Black Forest Preservation Plan developed in 1974, it is within the ìTimbered Areaî planning unit. According to the BFPPís website, uses for that type of unit must be limited to low density residential or open space.Laura Spear, a resident who lives on Lindsey Lane, is part of the Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan. ìWe are against the project for a very simple reason,î Spear said. ìIt is a factory farm in a rural residential area. We do not have a problem with greenhouses in general and home businesses, but we do have a problem with the 21,000 square-foot greenhouse that is standing right now. It is the scale that we oppose.îTim Spear said the groupís concerns are three-fold: the zoning of the property where the greenhouse is located; the scale of the project, including the size of the three facilities; and the intent of the project.ìWe are concerned about the future of the Forest and how this could set a precedent for other corporate ventures that are not appropriate for the area,î Laura Spear said.Wally Stenhuag, a resident who lives on Lindsey Lane, said the greenhouse (although moved from the original site) is right across the street from him. ìWe have six homes on Lindsey Lane,î Stenhaug said. ìNow, all of a sudden we have this big greenhouse across the street. It is a monstrosity, and they are just starting the project.îTim Spear said in January that the Friends of the Black Forest Preservation group filed for an appellate court date to appeal the BOCCís decision to approve the project.ìThe appeals process has been started, and the paperwork has been filed,î Stenhaug said. ìIt will probably be fall before it goes to the appeals court, though.îThe basis on which the lawsuit has been filed boils down to the words ìmandatoryî and ìadvisory,î Stenhaug said. The commissioners said the Black Forest Preservation Plan was advisory, not mandatory; therefore, the BOCC can consider the plan, but they have no legal obligation to adhere to it, Stenhaug said.The Black Forest Preservation plan was set up years ago to preserve the residential areas, Stenhaug said. ìThere are other zones that are commercial, and that is fine. The greenhouse is a good idea, but it is in the wrong place. It does not belong in the middle of our neighborhood.îAmy Lathen, county commissioner, said the decision to approve the greenhouse project was not an easy one. ìIf a project is not in compliance with the land development code, then we get into the times where we try to negotiate conditions to get it into compliance; and, if they cannot, then it is denied,î she said. ìSome of the criteria for compliance are going to be somewhat subjective, though.îOne of the most compelling reasons to approve the project is the idea that parcels of land would be used in a similar manner, in a similar area, Lathen said. ìThe applicant made a significant case for other commercial operations in the area,î she said. ìThey talked about buildings of a similar size to the greenhouse. Initially, the greenhouse was not approved because it was too big, but they changed that. They showed several large buildings in the area that had been approved over the years, and anyone could argue about those.îLathen acknowledged that the greenhouse buildings are large and will restrict the view from some of the surrounding properties, but she said the decision for approval came down to the law and being consistent in applying the law to each project.Laura Spear said the nonprofit group will be hosting a meeting May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Black Forest Community Center to provide updates on the project and address the progress of the appeals process.Editorís note: We are trying to find contact information for Black Forest Mission LLC. We will follow up with them for our April issue.

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