Juneau planners OK first southeast peony farm

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A city commission in Juneau has cleared the way for the first peony farm in southeast Alaska.

The planning commission on Tuesday approved a conditional use permit for Sunny Cape LLC, a business owned by Brad Fluetsch, to grow the flowers on a 24-acre site on North Douglas Island, the Juneau Empire reported (http://is.gd/SOO6l5 ).

Peonies grow later in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States, providing the state an advantage in the Lower 48 wedding business. Peonies bloom around early May in the Lower 48, while Fluetsch said his flowers at home are blooming right now.

"It is one of the most desired cut flowers in America, and on the globe," Fluetsch said. "Alaska happens to be in a very unique area that allows peonies to bloom in the North American wedding season. ... These things are darn near idiot-proof, and our climate in Juneau is perfect for growing them."

Peony farms are flourishing across Alaska, and it is the fastest growing sector of Alaska agriculture.

Fluetsch said each bloom can sell for as much as $10, meaning one acre can produce about $200,000 in blossoms.

"There is nothing that land can do that can produce that much, from an agriculture perspective," he said.

Some neighbors expressed concern to the commission about farm traffic and use of the easement for other purposes if approved, including switching the crop to marijuana if voters legalize recreational use in November.

"I'm concerned about the viability of a business plan to grow peonies, and if it failed, and also if it changed," said Gretchen Harrington, who lives next to the property. "Right now the plan is to grow peonies."

Commission chairman Mike Satre said there is no way to know if a business would thrive or fail, but the applicant has a right to develop the land.

"There are lots of projects that have come through here that have been approved and never ultimately succeeded," he said.

Fluetsch also addressed concerns of neighbors, saying he only intends to access the land by foot unless it's winter, and he will leave trees by the channel.

"There's 1,300 feet between the property we plan to grow on and the neighbors," he said. "I can't imagine anything more private than a peony farm."

He intends to plant 15,500 flowers next spring, and anticipates the first crop in 2019.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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