• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Colony Pumpkin Patch campaigns for its corn cannon

Conditional use permits for nighttime flashlight maze, zombie paintball required by Johnson County
A sign notifies passersby of a public hearing regarding the Colony Pumpkin Patch’s special use permit at the Johnson County Board of Adjustment meeting Wednesday, July 19. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Patrons of the Colony Pumpkin Patch in North Liberty might have to go without– or at least see less of– one of the farm’s regular attractions this season.
At a North Liberty City Council meeting Tuesday, June 27, owners Dean and Katie Colony requested support of their efforts to keep the “Shootout Shack,” which includes a corn cannon and paintball guns, in operation this year.
“Not only is it a value added attraction for us to market our corn but also fun and entertaining for our guests,” argued Dean. “It gives guests the opportunity to enjoy a rural Iowa farm close to home.”
The Colonys, whose farm is technically in Johnson County jurisdiction despite being nearly surrounded by North Liberty city limits, were made aware earlier this year the corn cannon and other attractions weren’t allowed uses on the property. They’ve submitted an appeal and conditional use permit request, both of which will be addressed by the Johnson County Board of Adjustment at its Wednesday, July 19, meeting.
“If you’ve been down by our place, you may have noticed there’s a new entrance to the pumpkin patch,” Katie explained.
In April, she contacted the Johnson County Planning, Development and Sustainability Department (PDS) to inquire about rules for signage for the new entrance.
“That basically threw up a red flag for them.”
She said PDS Director Josh Busard, who replaced planning director Rick Dvorak last year, was familiar with the farm, but since the property is in town, it may have gone unnoticed in the past.
“I think they were aware,” she said. “But why or what caused them to overlook it before, I have no idea.
No PDS staff were immediately available for comment.
Katie said Busard determined the Colonys need a conditional use permit for the Shootout Shack, zombie paintball and nighttime flashlight maze, which means those attractions could only operate 12 days a year. The decision stems from an interpretation of the Johnson County Code of Ordinances, pooling the three attractions as special events and not directly related to agriculture.
“I think our problem has been where the interpretation of the words farm or ag-related or ag-tourism or ‘agri-tainment,’” said Katie.
The Colonys use the attraction to educate users about the corn, as well as things like air pressure and engineering, she added.
At the June 27 meeting, council members were generally in agreement about the farm’s educational offerings.
“My kids have learned an immense amount about farming and agriculture as a result of coming to your operation there, and it’s nice that it’s right close to town,” said council member Sarah Madsen.
Fellow member Brian Wayson agreed.
“If it needs a zombie to let them learn about corn and pumpkins, I’m fine with that,” he said. “As far as the cannon, you have Newton’s first, second and third law of motion. Plenty of education right there.”
The council agreed to support the Colonys, but City Administrator Ryan Heiar noted, in a memo to council members, the final decision lies with the Board of Adjustment.
“Certainly there’s been great comment in support of you folks,” concluded Mayor Terry Donahue. “You’re one of the few family venues people can come to and enjoy themselves, just be kids themselves at times. You’ve been very supportive of the community.”
Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey said several council members received letters of support for the Colonys from community members.
Dean cited the farm’s support of community events and organizations when designing the corn maze.
“We believe we have been good neighbors, not only to the developments around us but the community as a whole,” he said.
Over the years, the maze has been designed to highlight North Liberty’s centennial celebration, the North Liberty Community Pantry, and North Liberty Police Department. This year, the maze will be cut to inaugurate Liberty High School.
Katie said it’s all about listening to the needs of visitors.
“That’s how our pumpkin patch has grown into what it is. We keep adding a little bit of something for the families so they enjoy, they stay, they make memories, have a tradition and are immersing themselves in the farm,” she shared. “If we just had corn, why would they come out?”
Since the farm is open for seven weeks mid-September through October, the county permit would disallow the corn cannon and other two activities the opening weekend.
“We kind of considered that anyway (for zombie paintball),” Katie admitted. “We don’t agree with the corn maze portion, but we’ll make it work.”
For the flashlight maze and zombie paintball, which operate only Friday and Saturday evenings, it’s not a huge change in plans; but for the Shootout Shack, which is typically available during all hours of operation, it could mean a significant loss of revenue.
And, the Colonys have already paid the county $185 for the appeal request regarding the corn cannon and $260 for the conditional use permit request.
Katie said they now have to submit an application to Johnson County Public Health in regards to restrooms and water provisions for visitors, as well.
“That was never told to us by anybody before,” she added. “It was a big surprise to us.”
Some of the attractions also require regulation by the state, she said, including the bounce house, a new pumpkin bounce pad and new, 150-foot, low-lying kids’ zip line.
While she expressed a desire to comply with state and county regulations, she believes the conditional use permit is exercised solely for public safety reasons and out of respect for neighbors.
“We have never ever heard a complaint,” she said. Even with the corn cannon and generator, which obviously emit noise, she claimed not one neighbor has complained. “They’d rather listen to a generator, little bit of lighting and traffic then look out and see another development.”
According to the Conditional Use Permit chapter, the Board of Adjustment must make a decision within 45 of the hearing to either approve, approve with modifications or deny the Colony’s requests for appeal and conditional use permit.
If the applications are denied, the Colonys must wait one year before submitting a similar request.
Members of the public are invited to the Board of Adjustment meeting Wednesday, July 19, at the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque St in Iowa City.
The Colony Pumpkin Patch is open Saturday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Oct. 29. Its annual fall festival is Saturday, Sept. 30.
Find more information at colonypumpkinpatch.com.