Neighbors voice concerns with Ambler Farm proposal

A proposal to modify the special permit of Ambler Farm faced some opposition from neighbors.
Friends of Ambler Farm, Inc. discussed their proposal to modify their special permit at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting on Feb. 11. Room A of the town hall annex was filled with neighbors waiting to share their thoughts on the proposal.
The applicant’s attorney, Douglas Bayer, said that in 2006 and 2007 Friends of Ambler Farm came to the commission for the current special permit application.
“Primarily what that special permit did was it limited nighttime activities to nonprofit organizations and it limited the number of activities to a certain size,” he said.
The current special permit allows for Ambler Farm to have six special events per year with no more than 100 people allowed, Bayer said. Now, Ambler Farm looks to increase this to a maximum of 10 special events a year with up to 200 people. The proposal also asks that other events, such as antique shows, craft shows and weddings, be included as a list of possible events.
Bayer said one of the driving factors for this is the renovation of the Raymond-Ambler House. Once this building is finished and open, the operating expenses will go up in relation to Ambler Farm’s current budget. Currently, Ambler Farm is self-sufficient, he said.
“As a result, there is an increased need to generate revenue for the farm,” Bayer added.
Michele Dunn, a resident of Ambler Lane of 31 years, said what was clearly restricted against in the original special permit was concerts and weddings.
“I encourage the commission to thoroughly review all the documentation from 2005 and 2007 to get the idea of the intensity of the opposition,” Dunn said.
She added the use of the farm is inching in the direction of what it was not originally intended for. Dunn said she found it disturbing that planning and zoning regulations from 14 years ago can now become dismissed.
“I find it dispiriting that the reasons for those advocating for the change base it on profit,” she added.
Even with the current restrictions as is the neighborhood has already paid a price, Dunn said. She also raised concerns around parking and noise if the proposal was approved by the commission.
“Any additional change does not help us,” she said. “It may help the Friends of Ambler Farm entity, but it does not help the neighborhood.”
Ambler Farm’s executive director Robin Clune said the farm is an important attraction to the community. She also said Ambler Farm is proactive in its relationship with neighbors. A few weeks ago they organized an information session at the library for neighbors.
Clune said Ambler Farm makes a diligent effort to set capacity limits for its events.
“Parking is not an issue at Ambler Farm events,” she said. “Our events and programs are pre-registration only.”
Clune added they have turned down other nonprofits or events at the farm that have been too grandiose.
Richard Thorogood, another resident, said it has been amazing to see the progress of the farm over the years. However, he said he believes this request could be taking it too far. Opening up to profitable events also could change the tenor of what the property was designed for, he added.
“It’s opening it up potentially into a very open-ended series of agreements in which one thing will lead to another,” Thorogood said. “It moves it a long way from its agrarian principles.”
Stephen Fogerty said time should be taken to be careful to look at what could potentially occur in the future. He said while he trusted the people at Ambler Farm, they are moving into an area that hasn’t been fully explored.
“I would just encourage you all to be careful,” Fogerty said. “Let’s hear everybody out. Let’s move carefully, let’s move slow.”
The public hearing will continue at the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, at 7:15 p.m. in room A of the town hall annex.