ACRES Land Trust now has a permanent home after an Allen County Board of Zoning Appeals decision on Wednesday.
Although many supporters of the nonprofit conservation group were likely unaware, the group's office, in a former home on the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve at 1802 Chapman Road in Perry Township, has operated since 2005 under temporary special-use zoning exceptions, said Shane Perfect, ACRES' director of land protection.
The initial agreements, in 2005 and 2006, expired annually, with the most recent extended to 10 years, Perfect said. It was set to expire at the end of 2016.
The zoning appeals board voted Wednesday to allow the exception for the office to run continuously, so no further approvals to maintain the current use will be needed.
The board also granted two requests that will enable the group to expand its mission and reach. Former agreements limited the number of employees to seven; the new agreement sets that number at 10 to better serve future growth in and preserve management.
The board also removed a ban on overnight stays at the office. Perfect said that will help the group host scientists and naturalists who sometimes come from a non-commutable distance for research that takes more than a day.
ACRES also hosts staff members from sister conservation groups who shadow its staff for training and may want to stay over, Perfect said. In addition, sometimes staff members may need to stay overnight in the case of inclement weather.
He said he did not expect overnight stays more than a half-dozen times a year.
The board voted to allow up to 10 individuals to stay overnight, so long as they use the office for shelter and do not stay on the grounds.
In other business, the board withdrew revocations of special-use exceptions for two parties who missed deadlines to renew but later came forward.
The exceptions were for Siler Funeral Services run by Steven Siler in Adams Township and Jonathan B. and Naomi Graber, who took over a property previously owned by Joe Lengacher in Springfield Township and used as a sawmill.
The latter property, along Grabill Road between Harlan and Grabill, is now not in use for that purpose, but the owners would like to preserve the option, the board was told. The renewal request was approved, with the condition that outdoor storage on the land will be limited.