Woodstock City Council votes to allow Collie Flower Farm expansion, granting request to remove some trees over neighbors’ objections

Special use permit comes with conditions including not removing five specific trees, keeping tours to 20 people or less

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Kristin Behrns’ business. It has been corrected.

A local flower farm is on track to expand despite objections from neighbors, after the Woodstock City Council unanimously approved a special use permit for the business last week.

The decision came after the Woodstock Plan Commission voted, 7-1, to not recommend the permit and over the objection of neighboring residents who wanted to prevent Collie Flower Farm, located at 1104 Alpine Lane, from removing trees in order to add new terraced, elevated flower beds.

The new beds will allow the business to bring production that had been occurring off-site on rented space onto its main farm.

The move also brings Collie Flower Farm, which had been operating without the required formal permission for eight years, into compliance with the area’s municipal zoning rules, which mandate that low-intensity agricultural uses must receive a special clearance from the city.

The property falls into a single-family residential district, where uses like athletic fields, among others, also require conditional approval from the city.

Liz Cardella, the owner of Collie Flower Farm, said she did not realize she needed the special use permit to run the growing business, which supplies local florists and farmer’s markets with flowers, and admitted it was a mistake to have not received one previously. She noted that all the outbuildings on the farm property were properly permitted for construction.

“I think I’ve created something beautiful,” Cardella said.

Daniel Thomas, a neighbor who, along with David Stumpf and Gerald Eisenmenger, voiced objections to the special use permit, claims that the changes Cardella has made to the land to grow the flowers resulted in less visits from wildlife.

“I bought my property specifically for the privacy and the natural aesthetics of the surrounding forest and wildlife. This has all been taken away from me without compensation,” Thomas said in a letter to the city. “If their request is granted now, what will stop them from expanding even more in the future? ... They did not seek any permission or approval to cut all of the trees they already have, or to run the tours they have been running, or the fires they have burned.”

Woodstock’s Plan Commission recommended not issuing the permit nor the approval to remove trees, which had to be provided by the city because of a tree preservation easement placed on the wooded area near Collie Flower Farm about 30 years ago during another development project.

“Predominant concerns expressed by commissioners were the previous unauthorized removal of trees within the existing easement, the desire to not have additional trees removed from the site, potential environmental impacts especially relating to the existing wetland on the site, impacts/loss of privacy on neighboring property, and traffic/parking issues if tours of the farm are allowed,” city staff said in a memo.

The commission discussed conditions that might limit the low-intensity agricultural use, such as removing fewer trees, requiring additional environmental study, providing additional screening and tree replacement, limiting the hours of operation, and limiting parking on Alpine Lane. But several commissioners felt even with conditions, the special use approval criteria could not be met.

The council’s vote in favor of granting the permit and the option to remove some trees in the area will override the Plan Commission’s suggestion.

“Liz’s hard work, determination, and discipline to sustainable organic growing methods are reflected throughout her beautifully grown floral product. With floriculture supply chains, many international, still in disarray due to COVID-19, our local flower farmers are essential to keeping local floristry businesses running,” Kristin Behrns, the owner and lead designer of Woodstock-based Petals n’ Bloom flower business, said in a letter to the city.

Eisenmenger, one of the nearby residents against letting Collie Flower take out trees to expand who also said “the Cardellas have not been good neighbors,” claimed he was forced by the city to plant two additional trees in order to remove one he needed to clear to build his home, because of the easement on the area. He wanted the Cardellas to receive a similar deal.

Instead, the Cardellas will have to meet a list of 10 conditions in order to continue the special agricultural use on their property, such as not removing five specific trees, providing a natural resources inventory to the city and keeping tours of Collie Flower Farm to 20 people or less, as well as limiting farm activity before 8 a.m., among other conditions.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.