TimberNook CUP

A week after some planning commissioners voiced concerns about the lack of information on a conditional use permit application for a recreational nature program, the applicants appeared before the Blair City Council better prepared.

But, after nearly an hour of discussion, which included a public hearing, city council members unanimously voted to table the request until June 25.

Mark and Payton Reynolds of Omaha are looking to operate TimberNook of Greater Omaha, a recreational nature program providing creative outdoor play and sensory experiences for children, on land they plan to purchase in the northwest corner of the intersection of county roads P33 and P35.

TimberNook, which has about 40 sites across the county, is a developmental nature program designed to foster creativity, imagination, and independent play in the outdoors. Payton Reynolds said she owns the rights to operate the program in Washington, Douglas and Sarpy counties.

In making the motion to table the CUP, Council member Brad Andersen said he'd like to see the planned parking area expanded and a question about land ownership cleared up.

During public comments on the permit, resident Roger Andreasen contended that a pie-shaped piece of land, which Reynolds had hoped to use as one access point, was owned by an adjacent land owner. But, according to the Washington County GIS, the land is owned by the Janet A. Nelson Trust, which also owns the land the couple are planning to purchase.

Reynolds said she met with Washington County Highway Superintendent Bill Hansel on June 6 to talk about right-of-ways for the access points. In a letter signed by Hansel and shared with the council, the highway superintendent said both proposed rights-of-way met the acceptable standards.

"I think the question of ownership access is a very serious one and I'd like to have that addressed," Andersen said.

Reynolds did note that the couple's purchase of the land, which they will also build a house on, is contingent upon the CUP being granted. A survey of the land is also waiting on approval of the CUP.

Andersen still favored the delay, however.

"I've been in your shoes," he said. "I know exactly what you are dealing with. You'll thank me for delaying it two weeks."

The council voted 7-0 to table action. Council member Kevin Hall was absent.

Moving forward, Andersen and council member Kevin Willis said they'd like to see the parking expanded. The couple did say that buses won't be allowed on the property. At last week's planning commission, parking to accommodate buses that would be used to transport students during school field trips was discussed at length.

Council President Chris Jensen said he'd like more detail.

"I'd like to see some structures and some drawings of some sort," Jensen said.

The couple shared two rough drawings of their plans for the land, but have not decided on what option to pursue.

Assistant City Administrator Phil Green said oftentimes in these cases, an applicant hasn't spent a lot of money on engineering and design because they aren't sure if the city council is going to approve the use.

The property is zoned as a General Agriculture District, but Green said recreational facilities are an "excepted use" with a CUP.

In addition to drawings, the Reynoldses also provided additional information on their plan and the TimberNook program itself, including sharing a video.

The land the couple plans to purchase is 30 acres. Reynolds said that most of the other TimberNook sites are about 3 to 5 acres.

"The reason we chose 30 is because we don't plan to encroach on our neighbors," Reynolds said. "We want to have enough space where we feel like we can live and carry on our passion, while not getting in the way of our neighbors. We plan to be good neighbors and we plan to be good community members."

The Reynoldses plan to build one structure, no larger than 1,000 square feet, which would be used in case of inclement weather. There will also be portable restrooms.

As for the program itself, sessions are open to children ages 18 months to 12 years and there is a ratio of one adult for six kids. Programs most often take place from 9 a.m. to noon or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The maximum site capacity is 20 children for regular programming and 30 for field trips, Reynold said, adding that TimberNook officials do look at the property and set the numbers.

If the program were to take off, Reynolds said expansion would be done on another site.

Responding to concerns about children wandering onto other properties in the area, Reynolds said during programs, children are taught to respect boundaries and adults, who line the outside of the boundaries, are responsible for making sure children are within the play space.

Residents voiced concerns about having a commercial business in an agriculture area.

"Someone at City Hall seems to have decided that this commercial activity should be allowed on agriculture-zoned land without a zoning change," Andreasen said. "How is this possible? You are opening a can of worms by doing this."

While the council delayed action on the CUP, no one on the council voiced objections to the program.

"I'm not opposed to this," council member Jon Stewart said, noting that his wife — a day care provider — is always looking for places to take her children.

The June 25 city council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Blair City Hall Council Chambers, 218 South 16th St.

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