Every year thousands flock to Vern Stade’s northern McHenry County farm to enjoy fresh corn, hayrides and time in the open country.
Added attractions at Shades of Autumn and Stade’s other seasonal festivals have become such a hit that he’d like to make them available throughout the growing season.
But officials in neighboring Spring Grove have asked the county not to grant Stade the zoning permit that would expand his agritourism business – and instead want him to annex his farmland into the village so that they could have a say over what activities he holds.
“We believe if this particular property was in the village of Spring Grove, we could work closer with him, we could control it,” said Mark Eisenberg, Spring Grove village president.
Stade owns 420 acres of farmland in unincorporated McHenry County north of Johnsburg.
He is seeking a zoning change on about 41 acres within that parcel so that the small bakery at his farm also can sell cookbooks, home canning supplies, homemade quilts, and other country-themed souvenirs from early summer to late fall.
Stade also is requesting that he be able to keep children’s attractions open from June 1 through Thanksgiving.
“We want to pretty much maintain what we’re doing now,” Stade said.
To have more freedom in his weekend offerings, Stade needs a conditional use permit instead of the temporary permits he has been granted in prior years.
He has submitted an application to the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals, which will host a hearing on Stade’s request Wednesday afternoon.
The board will consider Stade’s application and any opposition to his request before making a recommendation to the County Board. Then county officials will decide whether to grant the longtime farmer the permit he’s seeking.
As of Thursday afternoon, the village of Spring Grove was the only entity that had submitted opposition to Stade’s request.
In a letter written by the village’s attorney, Scott Puma, officials expressed concern that the county doesn’t have an “agritourism” permit or zoning district.
Therefore, there are no “time limitations as to hours of operation, no noise level requirements, no buffering requirements ... and no provision for the scope of any of the proposed events,” the letter stated.
“It might seem small and unique and good right now, which I think it is, but what he’s asking for could be anything,” Eisenberg said. “You could have a venue like Country Thunder. You could have a fair.”
However, Stade said his daytime festivities and Sunday outdoor worship services haven’t disturbed Spring Grove residents – and couldn’t, because his property is too vast.
“There’s no subdivisions within a mile,” he said. “It’s very remote so it shouldn’t have any affect on any neighbors.”
Eisenberg also conveyed that since Stade isn’t part of the village and therefore doesn’t pay any tax to Spring Grove, his growing business could have a financial impact on the village.
“The roads they utilize to go to that particular venue would be the village of Spring Grove’s,” Eisenberg said.
If the zoning board doesn’t approve the permit, Stade’s will be limited to only selling the produce he grows. To continue to host worship services and seasonal festivals, such as Shades of Autumn, he’ll need a temporary permit.
“But we couldn’t sell anything but what we grow on the farm and ... we probably couldn’t do much of any agritourism,” Stade said.
Despite the village’s letter, more than 200 people have voiced their support for Stade’s request.
Many e-mails sent to the board expressed concern that if Stade did not receive the permit he’s seeking would negatively affect the farm’s offerings.
“Yes, there are certain times during the year when the traffic is a little busier, but the reward for those of us in the surrounding area is that we have quality, fresh produce,” Margaret Redshaw of Johnsburg wrote in a letter to the board.
Crystal Lake resident Judi Tipps said in an e-mail to the board that she raised her children on Stade’s produce and they now stop by the farm to pick up their own food.
“In this day of fast food we need a place to buy fresh, healthy, home-grown foods,” Tipps wrote.
To be heard: To tell county officials whether you think Stade should be granted a conditional use permit for his farm, either attend the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the McHenry County Government Center Administration Building, 2200 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock, or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org