May 18, 2011 in City
Feuding in farmville
Here’s a new twist on chickens and zoning: A young couple in rural Kootenai County can’t teach a class about poultry at their small farm.
Instead, they have been told, they should explore renting a Coeur d’Alene hotel meeting room to educate others about caring for chicks, vaccinations, best feeding practices, and how to humanely kill, pluck and eviscerate chickens for sale to city folks seeking an alternative to factory-farmed meat.
It’s a scenario that seems conjured to elicit laughs from those who live in a region where agriculture remains a cultural and economic mainstay.
“This defies common sense,” said Beth Tysdal, who with her husband, Dave, had to cancel the farm classes. “We can hardly believe this is happening to us.”
This zoning absurdity, as Tysdal calls it, grows out of a feud between the Tysdals and many of their neighbors within the slender and scenic valley south of Interstate 90 along the Washington/Idaho state line.
The Tysdals now own the 80-acre Cable Creek Farm, a historic property where they run a few Scottish Highland cattle, keep some pigs, grow herbs and vegetables, and raise a few dozen chickens. The vegetables, eggs and meat are sold and delivered to families throughout the area.
They wanted to share their chicken expertise with others, but ran into a thicket of zoning restrictions.
Scott Clark, director of Kootenai County Community Development, said the issue isn’t so simple.
The problems began several years ago during the height of the real-estate boom when the Tysdals paid about $1.2 million for their farm.
They bought the property with intentions of getting a zoning permit to host weddings, family reunions, meetings, farm festivals and classes and perhaps even operate a bed-and-breakfast. Beth, who is leaving her job as an assignment editor with KXLY television next week, had previous experience as a caterer and wedding planner. A relative is a wedding florist. Dave is a Coeur d’Alene firefighter who grew up on a North Dakota farm. The two determined that hosting events would be a fine way to help make their purchase pencil out.
So they applied for and received a conditional use permit from Kootenai County.
The plans ignited an uproar with neighbors, who contested the permit. When that failed they appealed to the courts. All the while the Tysdals made investments to ready their property. They built good fences, spruced up the grounds and rebuilt dilapidated barn.
The Pielaet family that sold them the land had no idea of the Tysdals’ plans.
“They misrepresented their intentions,” Dave Pielaet, who together with his siblings kept two dozen adjoining acres. “They told us they wanted to raise a family and enjoy rural living.
“Had we known what they really wanted to do, we wouldn’t have sold to them.”
Pielaet acknowledges that there are plenty of emotions tangled up in the feud.
“When we learned a few months after the sale that they wanted turn our valley into party central, we called the neighbors together and said ‘No,’ ” he said.
The neighbors contested the Tysdals every step of the permitting process. Eventually Kootenai County awarded the Tysdals a conditional use permit under the “commercial resort” label.
The neighbors challenged the permit by filing a court appeal. As the zoning fight wended through the process, the acrimony deepened.
Two summers ago the Tysdals let some close friends use their farm for their wedding. The day turned ugly.
Pielaet and several neighbors fetched their guns and began firing them into the air. Later Pielaet started up his tractor and ran it up and down the property line, mowing grass and digging up rocks just yards from where the bride and groom exchanged vows and began their reception. Then Pielaet and another man began building a second pig pen near the fence during the nuptials.
Even today the bride cries when she watches the video of her ruined day.
Pielaet has no regrets.
“If they do another wedding out there, I’ll do it again,” he said. He blames the Tysdals for turning a tranquil valley in a scene of hostility.
“They didn’t tell anyone what was happening,” he said. “For all we knew, it was a commercial event and we were going to let them know we weren’t going to put up with it.”
Sheriff’s deputies were called, but everyone involved acted within their rights, the Tysdals and neighbors were told.
Other valley residents have hosted weddings on their property without complaints. Pielaet said the difference is that those weddings were family events, neighbors were told well in advance of the party and, in fact, some were invited to attend.
The Tysdals’ conditional use permit was stripped when the neighbors won their appeal of the county’s decision. The courts ruled that the plans did not fit within the county’s “commercial resort” zoning status.
The county then declined to present the Tysdals with another conditional permit avenue to pursue, other than attempting to change the land’s overall zoning designation to commercial.
That’s not what the Tysdals want.
Now they want to stick with farming and farm-related activities, including classes.
Beth believes they have the right to host farming classes. One advertised and then canceled this month would have been open to about 10 people each paying $10.
“Why can people come to our farm and buy produce or even U-Pick produce,” she asked, “but they can’t come pay to learn about that produce?”
The Tysdals said the county’s sloppy work has cost them financially. Pielaet actually agrees.
“If I were them I would be upset with the county, too.”