CACHE COUNTY – There’s another “Not in My Backyard” controversy brewing in Cache County.
This one is centered in Petersboro, where the Cache County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) that would allow the operation of a straw maze and other recreational attractions during the Halloween and Christmas seasons.
Kellyn Merritt says that he and other local residents oppose that project because it threatens to change the character of their rural neighborhood from residential/agricultural to commercial.
Merritt said that local residents have gathered about 100 in-person signatures and another 450 online on a petition in opposition to the proposed amusement park. Their appeal is now being forwarded to the County Board of Adjustments, which has the authority to overrule the planning commission.
The proposed “Cache Valley Straw Maze” is the brainchild of Spencer Stoker, a resident of Burley, ID who has operated a similar recreation spot in that area of several years.
The proposed site in Cache Valley would occupy 20-acres of a 35.7-acre property in the Blue Hawk subdivision at 6333 West, 2000 North near Mendon. Stoker is in the process of acquiring that property, which is now zoned for agricultural uses, from owner Mark Kidman.
Local residents in Petersboro believe that the proposed straw maze will have detrimental effects in terms of traffic congestion, noise and light pollution, safety, visual blight and land disturbance.
During discussion of the conditional use permit on June 3, members of the planning commission commented that both Little Bear Bottoms and the American West Heritage Center operate seasonal mazes with no significant detrimental effects.
But Merritt says that what the applicant has planned is more like an amusement park than a straw maze.
“During that meeting,” he explains, “they pulled up a website for their operation in Burley. And it showed a straw maze. And a pumpkin patch. And a zipline. And a child’s powdered swing amusement ride. And a pyramid with a great big slide. And a compressed-air corn cannon shooting at a car …
“So what they have in mind goes from being a simple straw maze…to some kind of carnival land that crosses into being a commercial business.”
During the June 3 meeting, county council member Nolan P. Gunnell suggested that type of character change for the area might run counter to the County Land Use Ordinance.
He emphasized that, under that ordinance, any changes allowed by the proposed conditional use permit must be compatible with the atmosphere and existing uses of the surrounding area.
Local residents also argue that the County Land Use Ordinance stipulates that reasonably anticipated detrimental effects of a proposed conditional use permit must be substantially mitigated by the permit’s applicant.
For that reason, the CUP that the planning commission reviewed favorably on June 3 includes more than a dozen conditions that Stoker must meet. But the members of that panel acknowledged that county officials would have only limited ability to enforce those stipulations.
During that lengthy meeting, members of the planning commission heard from only three Petersboro residents voicing opposition to the use permit. Merritt says that dearth of face-to-face opposition was because county officials only notified three families that happened to live within 300 feet of the effected property.
“That notification rule might make sense for a crowded residential area,” Merritt says. “But it doesn’t provide adequate notification in a largely rural area like Petersboro.”
Even then, Merritt adds, the description provided by the county in those notices was so vague that the residents had no idea what was actually being considered when they attended that meeting.
As recommended for approval by the commission members on a 6-to-1 vote, the conditional use permit would allow Stoker and his partners to operate the Cache Valley Straw Maze for six weeks leading up to Halloween and another four weeks prior to Christmas.
In addition to the straw maze itself, Stoker explains that the recreation site will also feature swings, slides, ziplines and possibly a petting zoo.
The 20-acre site will include a gravel parking lot with space for more than 650 vehicles and a 2-acre pumpkin patch.