Farm events flew under the radar
At the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Dec. 10 public hearing on Millstone Property Holdings, LLC’s application to create a regulatory change to Wilton’s zoning regulations, Town Planner Bob Nerney said it wasn’t until fairly recently that he learned about all the activities that had taken place at Millstone Farm over the summer.
The 70-acre property at 180 Millstone Road was purchased by Volckert and Eliane van Reesema in 2016. At the Dec. 10 hearing, a number of residents complained about loud, late-night weddings and events held at the farm, as well as excessive traffic and being “run off the road” by vehicles going to or from the property. Some residents also expressed concerns about opening the farm up to corporate events, weddings, and overnight stays.
When The Bulletin asked why — after years of farm-to-table and similar events taking place at the farm — the town only recently decided to address the farm’s activities, Nerney replied, “Frankly, I didn’t know they had been going on.”
“I was unaware that the current owners were having events until it was brought to my attention through the first selectman’s office, who had seen something online,” Nerney told The Bulletin on Dec. 13.
When farm-to-table events held at Millstone over the summer were brought to the town’s attention, Nerney said, the property owners were “directed … to stop that activity” because “they don’t have the approval to do those things.”
The owners, Nerney said, were given two options — either stop hosting such events or pursue approval to do what they’ve been doing.
“The owners had gotten approval about a year ago to get a riding stable and keep horses and operate as a training ground for private use, but that’s not the same as having meals served on the premises,” Nerney told The Bulletin.
“The town does allow special events on properties — up to two per year — but these were happening on a recurring basis.”
Under the name “Millstone Property Holdings, LLC,” the farm’s owners are seeking to amend several sections of the zoning regulations to establish regulatory provisions for “agritourism” as a special permitted use in single-family residential districts and allow offices accessory to a farm or riding stable as a permitted accessory use.
“I think the way to describe the application is that it is enabling policy — or regulation of established policy — that, if approved, would allow people to come forward with applications [for agritourism activities],” Nerney told The Bulletin.
In a letter to “friends and supporters,” the owners said they submitted the application after it was brought to their attention that some of the activities held on the farm “may not fall within existing zoning regulations.” The property is in an R-2A residential zone.
The owners wrote they would like to continue these activities, which is why they are “seeking to create a zoning regulatory change” — a new classification called “agritourism” that would allow people to visit a working farm for education, recreation or entertainment activities that would add to the farm’s economic viability.
If approved, the application’s proposed zoning regulation change would affect all R-1A and R-2 properties in town.
“At this point, what’s before the commission is an amendment proposal to the regulations that [among other things] sets forth operational standards that one would have to have,” Nerney told The Bulletin on Dec. 13.
“The application proposes requiring a special-permit application to conduct agritourism.”
Nerney said the application would change the regulations in a way that “would have a bearing on other properties.” Right now, he said, the focus is on “working farms.”
If the application is approved and the regulations are amended, there would likely be requirements properties have to meet in order to apply for agritourism, said Nerney, such as acreage requirements. That, however, he said, will “depend on what the final version entails.”
Approval of the application would also set up a special permit process requiring property owners to undergo public hearings if they wish to conduct agritourism, according to Nerney.
At the Dec. 10 public hearing, Nerney said agritourism is “an interesting concept” that “tends to be helpful for struggling farms.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “there can be an expansive list of uses, some of which may not be suitable for this particular property or other farm properties in town.”
If the commission is “inclined to move toward … accepting a change in the regulations,” Nerney said at the hearing, he thinks it’s “very important to find out what are those anticipated activities.”
The public hearing on the Millstone application will continue at the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Monday, Jan. 14, at 7:15 p.m., in Room A of the town hall annex.