An Appeal Denied

Update: Community Access Television has posted a video of the April 3 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. Minutes have not been posted on the BZA site yet.

Last night I met up with friends to drive to Bloomington, IN for a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. We were among 80 others there championing permaculture designers/teachers Peter Bane and Keith Johnson, who were pursuing variances for their small suburban lot. Since last summer, they’ve been mired in a conflict with Monroe County, primarily about placement and square footage of structures at Renaissance Farm.

The main issue was that they didn’t follow proper procedures, but they were under the impression that agricultural buildings are exempt from the process. I won’t go into detail about the legalities as that’s not the purpose of my blog—but you can refer to the meeting materials.

Peter Bane with co-teacher Rhonda Baird laying out a garden path during 2007 permaculture class

Peter Bane with co-teacher Rhonda Baird laying out a garden path, 2007 permaculture class

It was moving to hear the 30-plus testimonies of Peter and Keith’s impact. (I first met Peter in 2007 at a one-day permaculture overview class, and his passion infected me with the need to come right home and plant my entire lot in food.)

The intergenerational crowd was made up of neighbors, IU profs and grads, pastors, farmers, small business owners, a newspaper editor, a City Councilman, and young Bloomington natives who moved away and then returned, largely because they wanted to learn from these luminaries.

Neighbor after neighbor told of the duo’s generosity in sharing both knowledge and produce. Many have started gardening themselves. One said she travels all over the country; when she tells people she lives on the same street as these renowned Permaculture designers, “they are in awe.”

A sampling of comments:

“Everything they are doing is a practical and immediate way of changing the world for the better.”

“They are showing that young people can have a viable future in spite of the climatic, economic, environmental, and other issues facing us.”

“It’s beyond sustainable, it’s regenerative.”

A maypop planted along our fence, one of many plantings inspired by permaculture

A maypop planted along our fence, one of many plantings inspired by Keith and Peter’s work

There seemed to be an understanding in the room, even among officials, that we are at a crossroads. One supporter told them, “I am sympathetic to you who must uphold laws that support suburban sprawl and ignore what the future requires of us.” Another said, “We are living in a world where the rules are changing.” Another warned that big timber, big ag, and mining will dominate rural areas if we don’t change our ways.

But apparently these are not the concerns of a body pledged to oversee existing laws, faulty as they are.

After four hours the board approved all but one variance—a critical one. The barn must be moved about 10 feet from its current position to be in compliance.

It was a shock. Especially after board member Jerry Pittsford, who expressed dismay that Peter and Keith had circumvented the process, had said, “I like rules, but I’m finding very little that tells me the rules need to be followed here.”

There were a number of reasons to approve the variance and only one to deny it—the fact that they did not consult with the county and submit the proper paperwork. Even as the board expressed admiration for Peter and Keith’s work, they could not get past that lapse.

It’s unclear what the next step is for Renaissance Farm, but whatever comes, I hope these two visionaries were bolstered by the outpouring of love and appreciation from neighbors, former students, and admirers.

5 thoughts on “An Appeal Denied

  1. Bridget, it IS crazy. They are leading the way, and we are going to penalize them? If they were to move their barn, it would mean uprooting 40 six-year-old fruiting perennials. Insane short-sightedness on the part of this body.

  2. This is a wonderful and concise summary of what was perhaps the longest Monroe County BZA meeting ever. I am so glad you went with us! It was wonderful to hear the outpouring of support, the statements over and over of how the actions on this property in no way violate the building code principles and why they should have been approved. I agree the BZA fell into the vindictive stance of the Planning Dept in now approving all variances and I believe Keith and Peter will in the end be victorious. My favorite part was when the BZA asked the Planning Staff where they could have otherwise located the Barn and there was some hem-haw but no real answer. With the plot map clearly shown on the wall for all to see, it would have been easy to answer with a detailed response – except that there is no other place for the Barn to go! Any further from the property line puts it over the septic field. Any other location in the back requires removal of large trees that provide shade for the primary residence. Because this lot is only 25% of the zoned lot size for the setbacks (0.6 acres zoned RE2.5), these variances should have been a no brainer.
    But it was a joy to see the many people speaking out… for Keith and Peter and their amazing capacity for sharing, for Permaculture and for the desperate need for us to fight Climate Change NOW.

  3. Thanks Jami, trying to get the high points into a post short enough that people will read is tricky! I do hope your Freudian slip portends a future course correction on the part of the BZA! =)

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