Shelton farms back zone change for commercial farm stores

Stone Gardens Farms, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 20, 2022.

Stone Gardens Farms, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 20, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — City farmers are backing one of their own in his proposal to change zoning rules governing farm stores.

The proposal, submitted by Fred Monahan of Stone Gardens Farm, 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.

A farm store, under the proposed regulations, cannot exceed 2,000 square feet of retail area in a farm building if the land is less than 10 acres and 3,000 square feet if 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.

Attorney Stephen Bellis, representing Monahan, presented an updated farm store text amendment to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday. No decisions were made, and the hearing was continued to a later date.

“Ultimately this allows farmers to potentially generate more income and keep the cost of products down,” Randy and Victoria Rogowski, owners of Laurel Glen Farm, stated in a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“But more than that, selling agricultural products off-farm strips the farm of its essence,” the Rogowskis stated. “At the heart of the local food movement is a desire for community members to recognize and teach their children where food comes from.”

Changes to the farm store text were submitted to the commission in reaction to concerns raised by dozens of residents from the areas around Wabuda Place, Sachem Drive, Sagamore Road and Village Drive during past public hearings.

Those opposing proposed rules governing farm stores say they do not want to hurt local farmers but will not back changes they feel could allow commercial development on farmland.

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.

The amendment also calls for the building, if adjacent to a residential neighborhood, to require a green belt with a minimum width of 20 feet or wooded or landscaped area to provide enough buffering.

Philip J. Jones of Jones Family Farms offered his support for the text amendment, saying that this would “improve the ability to retail agricultural and related products.

“Keeping an agricultural business viable and healthy in these dynamic economic times, as well as navigating the variable climate and changing buyer habits, requires flexibility,” Jones said.

“A farm that is both viable and healthy, encourages the next generation to pursue their passion to carry on the family tradition of being stewards of the land and managing a successful agricultural operation,” Jones added.

Growing crops on land with prime soils and selling the produce in that same location is not always possible, according to Jones, and reaching the consumer in the most productive retail place is just as important as growing the crops in the most productive fields.

“Farming is a complex mix of decisions, affecting not just today, but also the future. Investments in equipment, facilities, and the planting of crops will impact the next generation of farmers and they need assurance zoning regulations will support their agricultural endeavors.”

The Rogowskis stated that having a farm stand on-site also offers the opportunity for farmers to multi-task — to work on washing and packing produce or in a nearby barn or greenhouse when not working directly with customers.

“We currently have no intention to build a new structure if the proposed zoning changes are approved, but we wholeheartedly believe in the necessity of updating the current regulations,” they stated. “We hope that one day our children will be able to sustain our farm here in Shelton and believe that these zoning changes are the best way to ensure a future for the next generation of farmers.”

If the text amendment were to be approved, applicants would still be required to submit an application for any farm stores, which would require a public hearing and review of site plan and uses before any decision is made.