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‘Never a slow day’ at Dragonfly Farms Nursery

From left, Dragonfly Farms Nursery owner Heidi Kaster leads a garden tour March 20. The farm in Hansville has reopened as a wholesale and retail nursery and is now permitted for hosting events.                                     - Melinda Weer / Staff photo
From left, Dragonfly Farms Nursery owner Heidi Kaster leads a garden tour March 20. The farm in Hansville has reopened as a wholesale and retail nursery and is now permitted for hosting events.
— image credit: Melinda Weer / Staff photo

HANSVILLE — At first glance, not much seems different about Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

On any day, you might catch up to plant maven Heidi Kaster — the nursery’s owner — as she’s loading plants for a landscaping job, or taking a landscaping client on a walk through the gardens, or leading a tour of visiting garden club members, or checking in Dave Dewire while he’s grafting conifers.

Whew.

Oh, and if you’re carrying something that casts a light reflection, like cell phone or keys, you’ll have to stop and play with Skeeter, one of the farm’s dogs.

“It’s never a slow day,” Kaster said.

But there is a lot that is new to Dragonfly Farms Nursery. One, the nursery’s code scuffles with the county have been resolved, resulting in a conditional use permit for many of the uses on her property. (Read the permit at www.kitsapgov.com/dcd/lu_env/he/decisions/CY2013/he-rd-131114-023.pdf).

Dragonfly Farms can operate as a wholesale and retail nursery. It can host up to eight events per month — themed festivals, classes, workshops, tours, wreath-making parties, fundraising activities, and a farmers market for the sale of local fruits and vegetables. Events are limited to 50 people.

Dewire, a bonsai artist and former nursery owner, joined the staff. “Dave is a great professional pruner,” Kaster said. “He owned nurseries for more than 30 years in Oregon. He knows how to shape plants that are artistic and cool.”

The nursery will begin selling plants by mail order in April.

“As usual, we will have some really great and unusual garden art to add to the fun here,” Kaster blogged recently. “The gardens are starting to come to life and we are on to new and cool things.”

But what she’s not allowed could be precedent setting.

Her two greenhouses are closed to the public because they’re not engineered to hold a snow load. “Those kind of greenhouses are generally not affordable for a business,” said Mark Kuhlman of Team 4 Engineering, which assisted Kaster in the permit process. “If you go to a retail nursery in Kitsap County, its greenhouse is probably not street legal. We tried very hard to get around it — she only lets the public in [her greenhouses] in summer — but there was no flexibility to be had.”

A wreath-making shed and a cabin built to house a coffee shop are closed to the public until commercial building permits are obtained and, if necessary, the buildings are engineered to code.

Other conditions: The farm’s monument sign on Hansville Road was determined to have been placed off the property; it had to be moved and a sign permit obtained. Outdoor lighting must be shielded to minimize impacts on neighboring properties. Kaster is required to provide one off her neighbors with a monthly notice of activities for as long as the neighbor lives there.

The county’s conditional use permit for Dragonfly Farms resolves some conflicts in its codes related to agriculture-related businesses. In the 1990s, when Dragonfly Farms opened on Hansville Road, the county thought “the highest and best use of agricultural land was residential rural,” Kuhlman said. That’s the zone ag-related businesses are in; there is no ag zone.

According to the county code, rural residential zoning “promotes low-density residential development consistent with rural character.” It also puts single-family homes on acreage lots next to properties that have agricultural uses, and that can lead to conflict. One of Kaster’s neighbors was concerned that trees between her property and Dragonfly Farms do not “completely block out the view or the noise” of vehicles going to and from the nursery.

Kuhlman said Dragonfly Farms’ experience makes clear that county zoning “doesn’t really get ‘Kitsap County rural.’ ”Initially, only wholesale nurseries were allowed in rural residential zones. Kaster said she didn’t know that until 2009, when the county shut her down. She said that was 10 years after the county Department of Community Development told her she could move her nursery from Bainbridge to her Hansville Road home because it was a “hobby farm.”

Steve Bauer, who was the District 1 county commissioner at the time, advocated on her behalf and Kaster received an operating permit. Bauer said in an interview last year that he thought Dragonfly Farms to be “consistent with the character of a rural area.”

Meanwhile, Dragonfly Farms evolved into a destination for plant lovers. Kaster built a small cabin for a coffee shop and hosted tour groups, weddings and a writers’ conference. But those activities, county Community Development director Larry Keeton said at the time, generate impacts “that have to be addressed. She is not operating a hobby farm.” The county asked Kaster to apply for a conditional use permit.

The county began the process of modifying its codes to resolve some conflicts between agricultural and residential uses. It started with off-premises signs. That issue came to a head — as did tempers — in 2012 when the county fined farmers for off-premises signs that had long been placed at the corner of Hansville and Eglon roads last year. Other areas were targeted as well.

Off-premises signs aren’t allowed under the current county code.

Under a pilot program, farmers were allowed up to four off-premise signs, 24 inches by 30 inches in size. Signs could be placed three days prior to an event or sale, and must be removed one day following. A sign must be setback at least 200 feet from an intersection. The pilot program applied to all seasonal and event-related off-premise signs.

Another gap in the permitting process may need to be resolved. Last year, Kaster said she didn’t apply for a permit for her coffee shop because she thought the size and building cost precluded it. Then, she thought she was OK because a county health department official signed off on it; the health official didn’t know the coffee shop hadn’t been through the planning department.

“Clarity is definitely needed,” County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said as the county started the process of reviewing its codes.

“Farming is a different kind of land-use practice. We have some great young farmers who may not be as clear on some existing regulations, and that’s why we are having some discussions. Our goal is, how do we get there satisfactorily for everyone.”

— Dragonfly Farms Nursery (www.dragonflyfarmsnursery.com): 34881 Hansville Road NE, Kingston. 360-638-1292. Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday in March; Thursday through Sunday beginning in April. Closed winter.

 

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