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Struggle continues over large-scale greenhouse

The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan continue their fight against a large-scale greenhouse ó the Minibelly greenhouse project ó which was erected in Black Forest, south of Shoup Road and east of Lindsey Lane.According to the March issue of The New Falcon Herald, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved the project in a 3-2 vote March 18, 2014. The article states that the applicant, Black Forest Mission LLC, has already constructed one of the three planned facilities, each measuring about 21,000 square feet.The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan filed an appeal to the BOCCís decision, claiming the board abused its discretion when it deemed the Black Forest Preservation Plan as ìadvisoryî rather than ìmandatory,î allowing a commercial-type greenhouse to be built in an area zoned as rural residential.On Nov. 19, 2014, Michael McHenry, an EPC district court judge, upheld the BOCCís decision approving the plan, quashing the initial appeal of the decision.Leif Garrison, member of the Friends group and resident of Black Forest, said the group is appealing McHenryís ruling through the Colorado Court of Appeals. If that appeal goes through, McHenry will be directed to reverse his decision and enter an order overturning the commissionersí decision to approve the project, he said.The Court of Appeals is currently collecting evidence from the previous decisions, including the transcripts from the hearings of the EPC planning commission and the BOCC, Garrison said. Once the information has been collected, the court will set the schedule for the hearing. ìI would expect that we would definitely see it this spring,î Garrison said. ìIt could really come any time, probably within the next three months.îMichael OíMalley, owner/operator of the Minibelly greenhouse project, said, ìI think the appeal is a poor waste of nonprofit dollars to fight something thatís already been approved by the BOCC and a court of law.î The financial cost to the Friends group is equal to what he has had to pay to defend the project, OíMalley said. ìIím not taking donations; Iím using my familyís money,î he said.OíMalley said he and his business partner, Ben Honken, received a loan from Mike Mandt, owner of the 41-acre plot and Black Forest Mission, for the initial start-up costs. He and Honken have to pay back the loan through the profits they make from wholesaling their crops, OíMalley said.After a career in the military, OíMalley went into farming. ìThe growing seasons in Colorado are really short,î he said. ìIf youíre going to grow things effectively, you have to do it in some type of controlled environment.î Currently, Minibelly only grows tomatoes because they wanted to initially perfect one crop, and tomatoes were the easiest, he said.According to the March NFH article, the Friends group concerns were the ìzoning 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.îOíMalley said he and Honken would have needed to get a variance from the county to build a commercial greenhouse in a commercially zoned area. ìWhat we needed for this area was a special use permit, which said that this greenhouse is an allowed use that doesnít conflict with any other uses that are already in the area, and that we matched the other conditions for the permitted area,î he said. ìWe met those conditions.îAt the meetings, some people have said the Minibelly structure is an eyesore, But OíMalley said it does not block anyoneís view of Pikes Peak; and the scale of the project is within the constraints of county regulations. ìIf people want to see our greenhouse, they have to actively look for it on my property,î he said.The intent of the greenhouse has been misunderstood, OíMalley said. ìA production greenhouse, which is what we are, is where we are just producing things and distributing them,î he said. ìA commercial greenhouse is where the public comes in and engages in commerce or retail activity on the location.îOíMalley recognizes the concerns about the BOCCís approval to allow the project to expand to three facilities, but he said the expansion is years aways, if ever. The expansion is largely determined by how much water three facilities would consume, he said. The Colorado water court approved a certain amount of water consumption for the project, and OíMalley said expanding the project could exceed that amount. The two additional facilities were included in the permit so that expansion would be possible, he said.Garrison said the Colorado Court of Appeals will consider the ramifications for the entire state, not just El Paso County. ìWe feel weíve got strong issues on appeal, and we are comfortable that we now have a group that is interested in statewide policy, with a statewide impact,î he said.

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