Opponents make final case against Shelton farm stand zone change

SHELTON — Opponents of a proposed zone change to rules governing farm stores made their final pleas Wednesday to prevent a move they claim will allow commercial operations in residential neighborhoods.

About a dozen residents spoke — live and on Zoom — at the Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing against the proposal, submitted by Fred Monahan of Stone Gardens Farm, which calls for a change to the zoning regulations permitting farm stores and commercial activity to a greater capacity on farmland of 5 acres or greater in R-1 and R-1A zones.

Residents from the areas around Wabuda Place, Sachem Drive, Sagamore Road and Village Drive have been the most vocal opponents to Monahan’s application, even submitting a petition opposing what they said would set a precedent of allowing commercial businesses in residential neighborhoods.

“This is not about farming. This is about building a commercial store in a residential zone,” said Chris Carreira, a resident of the Vistas at White Hills, a vocal opponent of the proposal who helped lead the petition drive that gathered hundreds of signatures against its approval.

Carreira called any commercial development — whether it be related to farming or any other type of business — “completely inappropriate” in residential neighborhoods.

After hearing comments from those opposed and in favor, the commission closed the public hearing. Commission Chair Virginia Harger said the panel would discuss the application at a future meeting.

A farm store, under the proposed regulations, could include up to 2,000 square feet of retail area in a farm building if the land is less than 10 acres, and 3,000 square feet on land parcels 10 acres or greater.

The original zone change request would have allowed for construction of a building as large as 6,000 square feet, with necessary parking.

Porter McKinnon, an alderman in the First Ward, spoke as a public citizen, saying he does not oppose the farmers markets or the Monahans specifically, but he does oppose the zone change proposal as written.

Patrick Riddle added that he feels no one has issues with farm stands, but this type of large commercial operation would have a negative impact on an already congested area.

Attorney Stephen Bellis, representing the Monahans, said the purpose of the text amendment is to offer a basis for filing an application for creating a farm store.

The proposed amendment states that farmland with 5 acres or more may have a building to sell produce, packaged meat, poultry and other value-added products with “50 percent of revenues produced on premises or from Shelton farmers/agricultural craft producers.”

The amendment would require the applicant for such a store be a farmer who files as such with the IRS and be registered with the USDA as an agricultural producer. The land must also be taxed as farmland.

Bellis said four farms presently qualify under the proposed text change — Stone Gardens Farm, Jones Family Farms, Laurel Glen Farm and the Beardsley farm.

The facility as proposed in the text amendment could be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., with parking provided at one space per 125 feet of gross area of the store. The lot may be gravel, pavement or millings.

Opponents stated that the amendment leaves more questions than answers - specifically in terms of total building size, if there is any slaughtering of animals on site, and potential locations of any outbuildings, among others. Opponents also voiced concerns about the listing hours of operation, traffic impacts on an already congested area with tight roadways, and potential devaluation of neighboring properties.

Bellis said the text amendment is not for a specific location but “for those farmers and their children … to keep their property farmland.”

The text amendment has drawn support from local farmers, who have stated that this move would allow for their operations to thrive and in turn keep the land as farmland.

Attorney Dominick Thomas, who stated he was representing a local farmer who might fall under the new guidelines if approved, said farms can no longer survive with just a small stand selling seasonally grown products.

“Those who think this are misinformed,” said Thomas. “This belief has led to farms growing houses instead of crops.”