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Decision pending after second vineyard hearing
By Elaine Jones
On April 14, the Planning and Zoning Commission continued the public hearing that began March 25, for the application by Michelle Niedermeyer and Kevin Riggott, owners of the Lost Acres Vineyard to modify and expand the existing Special Permit, issued by the P&Z on Dec. 9, 2008, for a farm store and the sale of wine under a farm-winery liquor permit.
After listening to the comments of all residents in attendance, P&Z closed the public hearing with the normal 65 days to make a decision on the application.
In the past seven years, the vineyard has expanded its operations and has become a gathering place for many local farm and artistic endeavors as well as a venue for special events such as weddings, where food is served. This application to amend the original special permit includes: expanding the specific hours the farm will be open from the current hours of noon–6 p.m. to new hours of 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; expanding the days when the farm store can be opened from Tuesday through Sunday and on holidays, to Monday through Sunday and all holidays; expanding the time of year for business from March 1 through December 31, to use of the vineyard all year. Other conditions include those related to special events allowed in a year, the open hours, the number of guests allowed, the number of activities in outdoor hours, the outdoor seating, the parking areas, the maintenance of a split rail fence along one property line, the posting of signs indicating the boundary line with no admittance beyond a specific point.
During the two meetings, many local residents spoke in favor of the proposal, citing the number of agricultural events the vineyard has promoted, the rich cultural value of Granby’s small farms, the displays by local artists, and the sponsoring of local events. At the March 24 meeting, resident Laura Eden presented 88 signatures in a letter supporting the proposed amendment. Jen Burkhart, president of the Chamber of Commerce spoke to the number of agriculture events the vineyard has promoted. Ginny Wutka said other small farms depend on each other to succeed. Rick Orluk, speaking for the Granby Land Trust, commented on the rich cultural values small farms present. Rose Stone talked about the Harvest Festival and its success.
While the proponents were in the majority, adjacent homeowners expressed multiple problems with the activities, particularly the events that are held.
John Jenkins’ and Carole Day’s properties on Lost Acres Road are adjacent to the vineyard, and they have expressed concerns with the probable increase in use, particularly the number of party events held. They reported past problems of excessive noise during events, the number of events in a year, the timing of events, car parking, outside lighting, damage to the Jenkins’ trout pond, and the downstream water flow with possible flooding on the Day property. Carole Day presented her concerns on the proposal, indicating she had trust issues about the intent of the owners and lack of oversight by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Attorney Mark Branse, representing Carole Day, proposed several conditions that should be added to the new special permit. These Included extending the border split rail fence, eliminating overflow parking, parking area to remain in grass, additions to the site plan, a limit on farm store activities, minimum exterior lighting, conditions on special events, including the number of special events per year, the number of guests and a verification of that number provided to the Granby zoning enforcement officer.
Attorney Mark Fiorentino, representing the owners, submitted three written exhibits explaining how the application is compliant with several local regulations.
Agriculture is part of Granby’s Plan of Conservation and Development and Granby’s Fundamental Values. These goals include encouraging and preserving existing farmland, farm operation, agricultural soils, farm architecture, agricultural tourism, and farmland and produce. The plans are inclusive rather than exclusive, Fiorentino also produced an analysis of 31 licensed Connecticut farm wineries showing that all but three are engaged in some form of ag tourism, including live music, tours, diners, wine and food tasting, craft and poetry venues as well as private and corporate affairs. Additionally, Granby’s zoning regulations and Plan of Conservation and Development permits, as of right, the events held at the vineyard, identified as customary and incidental as they are held for the purpose of selling the agricultural product, wine. He noted that a petition to approve the application was signed by 118 supporters, including neighboring property owners. In discussing the site plan, he said there was ample parking on the site and no modifications were proposed.
Neighboring property owner Noel Jenkins, who lives at 62 Lost Acres Road submitted letters from Robert Kortmann, PhD, Ecosystems Consulting Service; Attorney Elizabeth Heins, and Attorney Janet Brooks stating there are ecological concerns and inconsistencies with the Zoning Regulations. These concerns regarded the potential impact of grading, topsoil removal, and changes to pervious ground cover and the problem with drainage from the two ponds as well as an inadequate septic system. Brooks said the application is improper because uses being conducted at the vineyard are not permissible under Granby’s Zoning Regulations.
Attorney Fiorentino disputed these concerns as erroneous interpretation of the plan of development and the regulations. He said his clients were not looking for site plan approval and the submission of a site plan was only to identify areas used for parking, location of outdoor events, and the location of the split rail fence. Kevin Clark, Clark Engineering, submitted a memo to the P&Z indicating Farmington Valley Health District records show that there is an approved septic system designed for the site and the event parking would have no adverse impact on the downstream watershed. Director of Community Development Fran Armentano stated that, “based on my review of the file, I believe the vineyard is operating in full compliance with the zoning regulations and the approval of the commission.”