While some liked the concept of a recreational nature program being requested as part of a conditional use permit (CUP) application, the lack of a plan had some Blair Planning Commission members questioning the timing of the request.
But, in the end, a majority of the members voted in favor of recommending approval of a CUP request from Mark and Payton Reynolds 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.
The CUP application now moves to the Blair City Council and a public hearing on the request is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Blair City Hall's Council Chambers, 218 South 16th St.
Voting in favor of the CUP were Chairman Bob Boettcher and members Darrel Boesiger and Milt Heinrich. Voting against were Henry Neef and Joe Peleska. Andrew Schank abstained and Doug Cook was absent.
"I truly believe it's a great idea, but with not knowing what it's going to be, I can't vote for it," Peleska said.
Neef shared similar thoughts.
"I think they are a little early in applying for a CUP and without a preliminary plat and knowing exactly what's going on, we are just too early," he said.
Schank said he's not against what the applicants want to do, but was unhappy with how the discussion unfolded.
"I think the process tonight makes us look like a bunch of idiots," Schank said, although he didn't elaborate on why he believed that.
In presenting the details of the CUP request, Assistant City Administrator Phil Green said up front that the process is a little unique from the perspective of not only what was being presented and what the request was, but also the lack of details they had to share. Green even shared a list of questions he had regarding the plan.
The area, which is zoned general agriculture, falls in the city's 2-mile zoning jurisdiction. The use being planned is considered an excepted use, but requires a CUP, Green said.
The Reynolds are planning to use the land to build a house and operate TimberNook. The land would be subdivided into two parcels, with the house occupying about 10 acres and TimberNook about 20 acres.
Before proceeding with questions for the Reynolds, Boettcher asked if, based on the limited amount of information the commission had and the questions, they were ready to proceed or if they'd prefer to have the item tabled.
"I feel like we have done our due diligence and we'll do our best to answer questions appropriately," Payton Reynolds said.
Green said oftentimes, the city gets into these types of "chicken and egg scenarios" because applicants don't want to do a lot of research and a design if they aren't going to be allowed to use the property as they are requesting.
Reynolds indicated the offer to buy the land is contingent upon the CUP being granted.
Many of the city staff and planning commission's questions centered on parking, the size of a structure that would be used in case of inclement weather, the maximum number of clients on site at any time and the recommended client to teacher ratio.
Reynolds could not give a definitive answer about the size of the structure, which will be used as a shelter in case of inclement weather, but she did indicate that between 16-20 children could be onsite at one time, although that could be slightly higher if it's a school group. Under TimberNook requirements, there would be one adult for every six children, she said.
As far as a plan, Reynolds indicated they wanted to work with the city and find out what they wanted before going into much detail.
"We could have approached this two ways," she said. "We could have done this under wraps and then gotten caught. We came in from the beginning because we are kind of rule-follower people. This is why we don't have a lot. We want your recommendations on how we can legally benefit the community and by running this."
During public comments on the CUP, Councilman Kevin Willis also expressed concern about the lack of a plan.
"I'm not saying that this is not a good idea, it probably is. Kids are our best resource," he said. "But, before the council (meeting), a plan would be prudent."
Neighbors expressed concerns about children wandering onto their property and who would be liable if they would be hurt in the process and fires from the property that could spread.
Reynolds explained that the adults would be supervising the children on the edges of the property they were in, therefore, they would be able to intervene if a child wandered off. She also indicated that any campfires would be done at one location and they would use a fire pit.
Neighbor Steve Anderson worried about the precedent that could be set by allowing a commercial operation in the area.
"What happens 10 years from now?" he asked. If this precedent starts now, what is the development going to be in the future? Will it turn into a commercial area?"
Neighbor Roger Andreasen said he didn't see need for the program in the area.
"I spent five minutes on the internet the other day and I found 26 sites that kids could go play in, counting DeSoto Bend and the dam sites, Hitchcock Nature Trail and Fontenelle Forest within 20 minutes of downtown Omaha. You are already limiting the growth of Blair by putting the bypass in to the south and if you put this here, that's another limitation of 30 acres."
In recommending approval of the CUP for five years years, the commission stipulated that there can only be one structure of 1,000 square feet or less and that there must be a turn around for buses and required a fire permit for any fire pits.