Special permits for CSA draw concerns from neighbors

Whitney Caporaso, who owns a community supported agriculture at the corner Straitsville and Porter Hill roads in Prospect with her husband Chris, speaks during a public hearing for two special permits Nov. 7. LARAINE WESCHLER

PROSPECT — Neighbors rallied against an application for a farm stand on Straitsville Road, citing concerns including traffic and property values.

Whitney Caporaso pleaded her case for two special permit applications that would allow her and her husband, Christopher Caporaso, to sell and display agricultural products at their 1.7 acre property at the corner Straitsville and Porter Hill roads.

“We want to be a community asset,” Whitney Caporaso told the Planning and Zoning Commission during a Nov. 7 public hearing.

The new applications come after the Zoning Board of Appeals denied an appeal of the commission’s decision that found the Caporasos in violation of a special permit granted in March 2008 for two commercial greenhouses in a residential zone. That permit states that no direct retail sales to the general public are allowed on the property.

The Caporasos have filed an appeal of that decision at Waterbury Superior Court, arguing that their community supported agriculture (CSA) does not qualify as retail operation. Members of the CSA pay for a share of the crops at the beginning of the growing season and share the risks and benefits inherent in agriculture. About 30 of the CSA’s 75 members picked up their share once a week on the property during the last growing season.

However, the Caporasos have said they will drop the court appeal if the commission grants the special permits for the farm stand. The first permit would allow the farm stand and the second would amend the original special permit to reflect the current conditions of the CSA.

Whitney Caporaso told the commission that she was developing two areas for parking off of Straitsville Road, which would be connected by a 12 foot wide grass-way along the road. She said the line of sight from both parking lots would be over 200 feet in both directions, in compliance with regulations. She also said she would place signs and verbally direct customers to exit the parking lots nose-first, so cars wouldn’t back into the street.

The stand itself would be located on a couple of tables inside a garage already on the property, Caporaso said.

Caporaso read letters from the Connecticut Farm Bureau and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) supporting her farm stand, citing consumer demand for locally-grown produce.

Six residents from Porter Hill Road, the only residential road that borders the farm, submitted a letter stating that the farm stand would go against the commission’s prior rulings and disturb the quiet, residential character of the neighborhood.

The letter stated that there are plenty of farmers markets in New Haven Country where the Caporasos could sell their produce.

“Selling from their property is not a necessity. It is a convenience,” the letter read.

Caporaso disagreed, saying that farmers markets are far away and hard to get into, taking time away from her work on the farm. She said her business would not be sustainable without the ability to sell from her farm.

Another issue the neighbor’s brought up was traffic, which they argued would increase if there was a farm stand on the property. They felt the line of sight coming out of Porter Hill Road is already poor and the stand would make it worse.

“If they start selling over there, someone’s going to get hurt,” said Carmen Santoro of 9 Porter Hill Road.

Jim Osnato, who lives down the street from the farm at 21 Coachlight Circle, said he has never seen a traffic problem on the road. He spoke in favor of the farm stand.

“I would like to see them succeed,” he said.

Pat Vilardo, of 6 Porter Hill Road, complained of a big truck sitting on their road near the Caporasos’ farm for the past three years. She said the truck turns the two-way street into a one way.

“There’s no flow and it’s a dead-end street,” Vilardo said.

She said the farm is noisy and an eyesore. She noted a dumpster is currently sitting along the road.

“There’s piles of junk next to it. … It looks like a dump.”

Caporaso explained that construction is going on currently to renovate the sugarhouse, where the couple makes Maple syrup. She said she will remove the dumpster once construction is complete. She denied that she and her husband have parked a car along Porter Hill Road, saying they have sufficient parking off of Straitsville Road. She said trucks may park on Porter Hill Road near the sugarhouse during construction to drop off lumber.

Caporaso also denied the characterization of the proposed farm stand as a retail store.

“I’m busy farming, and I don’t want that to be my primary use,” she said.

She said the stand would be seasonal and open from approximately May to mid-October, most likely in the mornings and afternoons.

The letter from the neighbors said the farm stand would adversely affect property values in the neighborhood.

“This is not just a financial matter. It is emotional,” the letter read.

Vilardo reinforced that point, saying she has had to endure the blight of the farm since it was built.

“I feel that our sanity is being taken away from us,” Vilardo said.

Caporaso said she just wants to make her farm sustainable and that her neighbor’s concerns were unfounded.

“We’ve been fought tooth and nail this whole entire time,” she said.

The commission voted to continue the hearings on the two special permits until Jan.4 at 7:10 p.m.