The zoning issue is related to Hanover Farms, the farm stand run by Al Higley and his son, Alfie, which has operated since 2004 on a residential property at the corner of Routes 28 and 212. As it expanded, the market was found, in 2008, to be in violation of zoning codes on several counts, resulting in years of controversy over how to deal with a business that is widely patronized by the community but not strictly legal.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley announced that the first legally filed public complaint against the farm stand had been lodged that day by three neighbors of Hanover Farms.
For 45 minutes, Stanley read aloud from emails he and other council members had received regarding the rezoning issue. Although most of them began, “I’m in favor of farm stands,” all but one were against rezoning, many of the writers expressing fears that making the section of Route 28 near Mount Tremper a commercial zone would result in an invasion by “big box” stores and strip malls. Several referred to commercial strips on Route 28 outside Kingston or New Jersey’s Route 17, and many related a saga of creeping development on Long Island.
Speakers at the meeting echoed these sentiments and others such as concern that development on Route 28 would injure businesses already established in the hamlet of Phoenicia; concern that rezoning would endanger the ongoing application for Route 28 “scenic byway” status; and objections to the flouting of the law by Hanover Farms. Many cited safety issues due to customers parking along the highway during busy hours.
Alan White, executive director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, which is promoting the scenic byway designation, said the application would not be imperiled by a zoning change. If the highway were lined with stores, countered Mount Tremper resident Kathy Nolan, “Would the byway really be scenic?” She said she favored changing allowable uses under the zoning code rather than rezoning the area.
Eric Hansen of Shandaken was one of the few residents who spoke in favor of rezoning, stating, “I’m tired of people saying Route 28 is scenic. Why don’t they go up in the mountains, on the trails? Economic times are bad. We need more businesses.”
Pine Hill resident Eve Smith said she thought the prediction that rezoning would generate “big box stores is farfetched. I represent a lot of people not speaking, people here who make their livings by the skin of their teeth. Jobs are important. I think we can preserve our natural beauty through businesses that will attract people.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Alfie Higley of Hanover Farms rose to say, “We sat down last time with the town board. The deal we made at that time they reneged on...I think if we sit down, we can get this done. We’ll give it one more try.”
Later Stanley said Higley was referring to a meeting in 2008 in response to the town’s citation against the farm stand due to zoning violations. Apparently, Higley and his attorney met with the Chairs of the Planning and Zoning Boards (at that time), Zoning Enforcement Officer Gina Reilly, the town’s attorney, and then supervisor Peter DiSclafani — early in his term, when he was not yet familiar with many town regulations, said Stanley. Council members were not invited.
In an email, Stanley elucidated, “At this meeting some kind of deal was struck, Mr. Higley was asked to submit payment to the Town ($2500) for ‘site plan approval’ at his current (2008) area. The Town Supervisor (Peter) accepted the check, deposited it in a Town account and ordered the ZEO (Gina) to rescind the citation, which she did. Mr. Higley’s claim is that it was for him to receive site plan approval, Peter argued it was for ‘site plan review.’ In either case, not cool. The Town Planning Board is the only one that can enforce these fees and are deposited in an escrow account. The Town Board and especially a Town Supervisor, cannot enforce these fees, solely. Mind you, a fee far in excess of our standard fee for a lot of the same size anywhere else in town so...no citation exists today.”
New categories, new restrictions
The zoning code already provides for a wide range of commercial uses within various types of residential areas. Changes proposed, some by Stanley and others by councilwoman Doris Bartlett, would make Hanover Farms legal — or closer to it — by introducing the category of Small Retail Food (SRF) Market with a maximum footprint of 1000 square feet, up from the 100 square feet currently permitted in the code for farm stands. Other suggested changes would require that at least 51 percent (instead of 100 percent) of the goods offered at an SRF originate in New York State; permit the sale of foods other than fresh produce; increase the setbacks from adjoining residential properties; and allow operation between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Hanover Farms is over 1000 square feet in size, sells a variety of packaged foods as well as produce, and, according to Al Higley, remains open 24 hours a day.
After the Wednesday meeting, Joan Munster of the Shandaken Planning Board told Bartlett and Stanley that the proposed changes looked possible, and the planning board would debate inserting them into the code. However, the criteria could change in scope during the discussion, and businesses can apply for variances on specific items.
In response to a question about future plans, Al Higley said on Tuesday, May 31, “We have four or five interests going on in Kingston, West Hurley, and Olive that we’ve been working on for quite a while,” but refused to comment further.++
On May 25, Zoning Enforcement Officer Gina Reilly received an official complaint signed by three neighbors of Hanover Farms, asserting that the business is “a danger and a nuisance.” They go on to cite Shandaken Zoning Codes 116-31, 166-40 T, 116-37, adding, “We do not want to see any business closed, only reduced in size and scope according to the law. We are also, as in section 116-65 C, requesting that in the event you, the ZEO, fail to act within 10 days, that this matter is referred to the Town Attorney for legal action.”
The letter was signed by Ted Denman, Diane Sorbellini, and Marilyn Stewart, all of Mount Tremper.
According to Supervisor Rob Stanley, Reilly “has 10 days to respond in writing to the complainants. That response is from the ZEO solely. Once she has made a determination on the complaint she writes to them to explain why an action or no action takes place. Dependent upon the response, if the complainant is not satisfied, the decision goes to the Town Board to vote on whether they uphold or disagree with the action/ non-action.”
Stanley said the response rests with Reilly and is out of his jurisdiction.
Reilly, who provided a copy of the letter, could not be reached for comment by press time.++