The architects of Gulfport’s first bean sprout farm may be close to reaching a compromise with their next-door neighbors.
First United Methodist Church at 53rd Street South and neighboring residents may be close to seeing eye-to-eye over church plans to build a bean sprout garden on church property.
The church’s original plans to place the garden in an open-topped industrial container generated sharp criticism at the Nov. 2 Gulfport council meeting, with residents calling it an eyesore and claiming it would lower property values.
Residents asked the city council to deny the church’s request for a variance to build its farm. Church officials are now floating a more “residential-friendly” garden concept housed in an enclosed building they say blends in with the area.
The bean sprout farm is the brainchild of Brendan Hart, founder, president and CEO of the Florida Hunger Project ( floridahungerproject.org) a charity that grows food for local food banks and donation spots in the name of his nonprofit. Hart designed the church garden, which will use solar-powered lights in an air-conditioned room to grow bean sprouts to serve as a food source for the hungry.
Measuring approximately forty-one feet long, nine feet wide, and nine feet high, the vinyl-sided building has a fixed-pitch roof surrounded by a six-foot-high fence, will have outside lights, and a motion detector-based security alarm.
“He (Brendan Hart) is going to make it look modular,” said John McEwen, Gulfport resident and chief financial officer of the First United Methodist Church. “It’s going to have doors and be designed to look like it has windows. It’s going to look like a home.”
“The fact that it is a container is not really a factor if it is covered up and vinyl sided like a home and has windows and a roof,” Hart said.
“The goal is to make the aesthetics of it blend in completely … even if we have to spend extra money to do that,” Hart added, “we want to have the least amount of stress for the neighborhood.”
McEwen said the church’s food project may actually have a positive ripple effect on the Gulfport community.
“If we become a community initiative, where people start saying, ‘Hey, that church is really doing a good thing,’ I could see people coming in and helping out.”
McEwen says Hart has also proposed for the project to become an instructional platform for students of Walden Middle School, located in the educational wing of the church building.
“They’ll be able to learn how to grow, and what we do,” McEwen said.
However, Gulfport resident Ken Beaudoin of 2719 52nd St. S., husband of Susan Lloyd Davies, who lodged complaints before the council, said they still had concerns about neighborhood security and the building blocking their outdoor view. Beaudoin asked church officials if they could position the building longways, or vertically, in the church parking lot space so he and his wife can retain an unobstructed view from their backyard lanai.
“It blocks the view from the lanai when we sit by the pool,” Beaudoin said.
Hart said the request “is something that we can discuss and explore,” but Church Pastor Jacob Park said each design change means they must re-submit new plans with the city.
“If we keep changing the design, that means more money,” Park said.
Beaudoin also said he worries the building could pose neighborhood security issues.
“Once you put a building positioned like that with a long fence, that blocks the view of access to our house, if somebody gets behind that fence,” Beaudoin said.
The planned motion detector security system should prevent that, Hart said.
“So, if someone were to climb the farm fence, it alerts me on my cell phone,” Hart said. “As soon as the alarm goes off, I can speak through the cell phone and say `please leave, or the police will come.’”
Beaudoin said he and his wife will consider the church’s modified farm concept.
“I would like to compromise as much as possible, and I think this might be a solution that I could get my wife to sign off on as well,” Beaudoin said.
Church officials will now return to the drawing board to draft and submit a new building plan to the city for their proposed bean sprout farm.