Prospect CSA owners appeal board’s ruling

Whitney Miller-Caporaso poses on her farm on Straitsville Road. Miller-Caporaso and her husband, Christopher Caporaso, filed an appeal of the Prospect Zoning Board of Appeals' decision not to allow members of their community supported agriculture to pick up crops at the farm. - FILE PHOTO

PROSPECT — The owners of a farm on Straitsville Road have filed an appeal against the Zoning Board of Appeals following its decision last month not to lift a cease-and-desist order against their operation.

Christopher Caporaso, who lives at 176 Straitsville Road, filed the appeal Friday at Waterbury Superior Court. He and his wife, Whitney Miller-Caporaso, have been running what is called community-supported agriculture, or CSA, on their 1.7-acre parcel at the corner of Straitsville and Porter Hill roads.

They do not have a retail farm stand, and the public is not allowed to buy produce at the property, the appeal states. Their shareholders, about 30 in all, pay a membership fee at the beginning of a growing season, and later pick up a bin of a variety of fresh vegetables twice a week at the farm.

In August, the Planning and Zoning Commission directed William Donovan, the town’s land use inspector, to issue a cease-and-desist order to the couple because the operation is considered a retail activity.

Commissioners contend that the activity violates a special permit that the Caporasos were granted in March 2008 for two commercial greenhouses in a residential zone. The permit states that no direct retail sales are allowed on the property.

The Caporasos appealed the order to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Last month, the board held a hearing and denied the appeal, 3-2.

Donovan said it’s his opinion that a sales transaction has occurred that is allowing members of the public to obtain produce on the site. It’s a direct violation of the special permit, he said.

The court appeal alleges that the board acted capriciously and unlawfully in its denial by determining that the weekly pickup by shareholders constitutes a retail sale to the general public, by considering evidence not disclosed at the hearing and by denying the owner a fair administrative hearing.

The Caporasos referred comments to their attorney, Kenneth R. Slater Jr. of Hartford.

“We believe the Zoning Board of Appeals made a mistake in ruling that a CSA shareholder is not allowed to pick up produce at the site,” Slater said.

The appeals board also recommended that his clients revisit the Planning and Zoning Commission to try to resolve the issue, he said.

To that end, the Caporasos have filed two applications for special permits with the commission. One asks for a farm stand to display and sell agricultural products, and another asks to amend the existing special permit. The amendment would allow the sale of plants or vegetables on site.

“We hope that those applications will resolve the issue altogether,” Slater said.

He said the appeal was necessary to protect his client’s rights in the event that this can’t be resolved with the Planning and Zoning Commission. Slater said it is his expectation that if resolution is reached with the commission, the court appeal would be withdrawn.

The commission will hold a hearing on the applications Dec. 7 at Town Hall. The farm stand application will be heard at 7:10 p.m., with the amendment to follow at 7:20.