County approves permaculture classes at farm on 63rd

Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

After hearing about three hours of public testimony Thursday night, the Boulder County commissioners gave their blessing to Zia Parker’s plan for hosting permaculture classes at her small farm on North 63rd Street.

Parker and her appeal to gain permission for the demonstration farm, which was opposed by several of her neighbors, was the subject of a Jan. 28 story in Boulder Weekly. (Click here for the story.)

The board voted unanimously to give Parker permission to host the full number of class participants she had requested — 20 students for the adult workshops and 12 students for the kids sessions. The commissioners did, however, limit her to no more than 10 cars on her property at a time, in response to concerns about traffic, parking and pollution.

County land-use staff had recommended reducing the class sizes to no more than 10 people, and at the hearing they expressed some skepticism about whether Parker could deliver on her plan to have students carpool at an average of 4.3 people per car.

More than 30 people testified at the Jan. 28 hearing, and most spoke in support of Parker’s proposal, extolling the virtues of permaculture and urging the commissioners to adhere to their professed sustainability goals.

One person told the board, “How can you deny the shining new examples you wish to encourage?”

“We need not just ClimateSmart but FoodSmart,” added Dave Georgis of Boulder.

Another audience member read a poem into the record. “The earth speaks,” she said. “With what voice shall we answer?”

But several neighbors testified that Parker is already renting out four of her bedrooms and running a physical therapy operation out of her home at 6481 N. 63rd St., and that she has plans for a sweat lodge and therapy pool.

They said that adding another venture, including kids classes that amount to a daycare, would not be consistent with the character of the neighborhood, which is zoned for agriculture.

“This doesn’t seem like a private residence but a commercial establishment,” neighbor Haydee Kuner told the board.

Her husband, Jerry, added, “It’s about money. … The question is, are you going to penalize us three neighbors so that she can make a living off her property?”

Neighbor Diana Wartburg said Parker and her students objected when she and her husband sprayed pesticide on weeds in their hay field. “Are we not allowed to take care of our hay fields?” she asked.

They also expressed concerns that Parker would not be required to purchase liability insurance for the classes, and if a child wandered onto a neighbor’s property and had an accident, the neighbors could be held liable if they don’t buy such insurance on their own. They emphasized that their concerns are not with the concept of permaculture, but with the side effects that this particular business would bring.

“This issue is how neighbors tolerate change,” said Boulder resident Rick Shepard, noting that over the decades he has tolerated changes near his home, like the addition of a path often filled with schoolchildren. “It’s activity I need to endure because it’s good for the community.”

Gary Gabrel of Boulder added that the impacts at Parker’s farm seem minimal.

“It’s not heavy equipment, it’s kids laughing and learning how to grow food,” he said.

Parker told the board that she has already made many concessions and compromises that have significantly cut her anticipated income. For instance, she said she abandoned her plan to have a farm stand, as well as her intention to include food preservation and consumption in her class, because it is against county code — even though she is allowed to bring her classes “doughnuts from King Soopers,” a comment that drew laughs from the crowd.

As for her neighbors’ concerns, she said, “We all moved to the country so we could avoid the HOA mentality.”

During their deliberations, the commissioners stressed that they have a long record of supporting sustainability efforts such as permaculture, but that the question at hand was how the land-use code applies to this particular situation. While they went against the staff recommendation to limit Parker’s class sizes to 10, the commissioners upheld a staff suggestion that the county transportation department review the situation in a year.