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County approves Stonehouse Park permit

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – Stonehouse Park will get a second chance as a recreational venue under a new name and owner of its 37-acre property in Paw Paw Township.

The DeKalb County Board approved a special use permit Wednesday for Stonehouse Farm: Eco-Retreat and Sanctuary to operate a retreat center featuring yoga, meditation and organic farming. The ordinance passed 19-3.

The permit allows the now private campsite, located on the north side of Suydam Road near Earlville, to host up to six festivals a year between April and October with no more than 2,000 attendees. The events, which will prohibit the use of alcohol or drugs, may not exceed the hours of 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

The ordinance received some scrutiny from board member Anthony Cvek, R-Sycamore, who voted against it. Cvek said after doing his own research on the organization’s website he was troubled by some of the verbiage citing a clothing optional event and encouragement to be discreet when walking to the park.

Stonehouse Farm owner Daren Friesen defended his company, which does not put on the event as it is hosted by Circle Sanctuary who has leased the venue the past two years. He said his group requires clothing at their events and the discreetness of guests is out of respect for the residents who they do not wish to disturb.

“Overall, we’re very modest people,” he said. “We’re into health and well-being.”

Julia Fauci, D-DeKalb, of the planning and zoning committee, which sent the ordinance to the board for approval, said she was very impressed with Friesen’s intent for the property and trusts his sound business experience. She said she had no concerns about the organization’s future activities.

“What’s happening there – as long as it’s within the law – is perfectly fine,” she said.

As owner of Chicago’s Moksha Yoga Center, Friesen said the main idea behind Stonehouse Farm is to help people escape city life and enjoy nature, which he wants to help preserve.

“This is really the best use for the property,” he said.

Friesen said he could understand why some of the board members were skeptical of his plans for the site because of its former occupants.

The county shut down Stonehouse Park in September after its previous owners violated codes and were unable to produce a loan commitment securing the property’s finances.

Nearby residents often complained of loud concerts late at night, consistent use of alcohol and illegal drugs from guests and concert-goers trampling their yards on their way to the park.

But Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, reassured the board that he has spoken with neighbors of the park and they don’t seem to be in opposition. They actually think it would be a great fit with the community, he said.

Now that he’s been given the green light, Friesen said he looks forward to renovating the site before its opening in mid-June.

“This was a big part of the next step,” he said.

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