The Shandaken town hall was packed on Thursday, May 8, as the zoning board of appeals held a public hearing on whether to grant variances to permit Al Higley to reopen Hanover Farms, his Mount Tremper farm stand. The board expects to discuss the variances at its next meeting, scheduled for May 21 at 7:30 p.m. The entire permitting process will probably take at least another month and possibly longer, according to town supervisor Rob Stanley.
Most of the full-time and part-time residents who addressed the board were supportive of Higley, with some reservations expressed about his failure to observe zoning regulations in the past. Higley’s attorney, Rod Futerfas, told the board that the granting of variances requires them to weigh the possible negative effects of overruling zoning regulations versus the farm stand’s benefit to the community.
Hanover Farms has been closed since December in response to a judge’s ruling that the business has been operating for most of the past eleven years while failing to comply with town regulations and that it must remain shut down or apply for a new permit under the zoning law. The town planning board handed over Higley’s permit application to the zoning board in April for consideration of the required variances, due mainly to the physical footprint of the business, which exceeds the allowable size of a farm stand, even under the regulations revised in 2012.
“I don’t know a better neighbor than Al,” said 20-year Mount Tremper resident Hugh Kahn, who called Hanover Farms a beacon and a landmark. “Every time I’m coming back from New York City, or I’m coming back from Kingston, it’s tremendous to have a store that you can go to, where you can get fresh vegetables and, if you want, at 11 at night. I really miss this place.”
Meg Ampel praised Hanover Farms for “reflecting the sense of a country community that enhances the tourist niche we’ve worked so hard to carve out for ourselves.” She cited the farm stand’s charm and the owner’s hospitality and courtesy.
Of the 18 members of the public who spoke, nearly all expressed support for allowing the farm stand to reopen, citing Higley’s generosity to community groups, the 24-hour-a-day access to reasonably priced fresh produce and other foodstuffs, and the benefits to 14 employees and 22 local producers of items sold at Hanover Farms. Three of the speakers, however, had mixed feelings, and one was firmly opposed.
“I frequent the farm stand two or three times a day,” said Tina Rice. “I love those guys. However, there are rules and regulations that every business in the town of Shandaken has to follow. A lot of people don’t realize that this lawsuit was filed by Hanover Farms to the town. That’s costing us taxpayers in excess of $70,000. I want to see them back open, but we have to come to a happy medium.”
Kham Nguyen expressed frustration with Higley for having violated regulations for years with impunity. “If we let him get away with it, and somebody else in the future does the same thing, how will we stop it?” asked Nguyen. He was also disturbed by the tendency of cars to park on the shoulder of Route 28 in front of the farm stand and pull out abruptly onto the highway.