On February 23, the Shandaken town board voted to adopt changes to the regulations regarding roadside farm stands, after seven years of efforts to resolve this controversial issue. Sixteen people attended the public hearing preceding the vote, several of them expressing reservations about the regulations as proposed.
The board members voted unanimously for the rules’ adoption, with the exception of Alfie Higley, who was not present. Higley and his father, Alfred Higley Sr., have been at the center of the debate, which began in response to their farm stand, Hanover Farms, which has expanded beyond the limitations of the previously existing regulations over the nine years of its operation in a residential zone of Mount Tremper on Route 28.
Al Sr., confirmed last week that he has attended zoning and planning board meetings in West Hurley to discuss the possibility of obtaining a variance should he buy the former Black Bear Restaurant on Route 28 and set up another operation on that site. “We’re looking at five or six different places,” said Higley. “We want to expand — we need more space. We don’t know yet if that one will work for us.” He said that if they set up another market at a different location, the Mount Tremper site would continue to operate but would be scaled down.
Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley emphasized that the new regulations are not directed at Hanover Farms but apply to any farm stand business in the town. They increase the maximum size from ten feet by ten feet to 49 percent of the percentage available under current bulk regulations. Those regulations specify that residential landowners in the town are permitted to develop 10 percent of their property. The new rules allow roadside stands to occupy 49 percent of that 10 percent.
Thus, as the board observed, the owner of a ten-acre parcel can develop one acre, and almost half of that acre can be used for a farm stand. “Minus whatever other structures are already on the property,” added council member Vin Bernstein.
When asked whether the changes will make Hanover Farms legal, Stanley said, “They will have to apply under the new regulations. They may or may not fit them. I don’t have the measurements of his property.”
Stanley said the specifications were designed as “the best compromise we could come up with,” and that the board avoided adjusting them to any particular property. “It’s up to Mr. Higley to come up to compliance,” Stanley stated. “He’ll have to apply to the planning board and go from there.”
Higley Sr. stated in a 2008 letter to the town that Hanover Farms is over 2500 square feet. The property on which the farm stand sits is reported to be about an acre and a half. With the formula present in the new regulations, such a property would be allowed a farm stand in excess of 3000 square feet, provided there was no other building coverage on the land.
Stanley said that after years of efforts to determine a maximum size, the board decided that using a percentage guideline would be the most fair to all landowners.
Some observers objected to the percentage rule, with Shandaken Democratic Committtee chairman Nick Alba pointing out, in a letter read aloud by Stanley, that an 11-acre parcel, such as the one occupied by the former Alyce and Roger farmstand on Route 28, would allow a farm stand of 89,000 square feet. The parcel is currently for sale.
Tom Rinaldo of Phoenicia echoed this concern, suggesting an upper limit be set, in case of the owner of a large parcel attempting to build a massive commercial operation. Rinaldo said he was basically in favor of the regulation but was concerned about setting a precedent. “If you don’t want a farm stand of over 3000 square feet, then put it in the law,” he said, suggesting that a farm stand of 42,000 square feet would be unacceptable.
“If someone wants to come into town and invest their time and money into building a 42,000-square-foot farm stand,” Stanley commented ironically, “well, then God bless ‘em.”
The regulations also specify that farm stands must be located at least 20 feet from the street; must be one story high or located on the ground floor of a multi-story building; may sell only food products and plants; can have signs of up to 12 square feet, located at least five feet from the street; and require setbacks from other residential properties, in proportion double the distances specified in other zoning regulations.++