Proposed farm stand in Prospect center of debate

Prospect resident Pat Vilardo addresses the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night during a hearing for two special permits for a farm stand on Straitsville Road. LARAINE WESCHLER

PROSPECT — Neighbors opposed to a farm stand on Straitsville Road told the Planning and Zoning Commission they would not be satisfied with any compromise that would allow customers to buy or pick up produce on the site.

“We already feel we have made a compromise. … This is wrong,” said Ann-Marie Santoro of 5 Porter Hill Road at a Jan. 4 public hearing on a special permit application to sell and display agricultural products at 176 Straitsville Road, on the corner of Porter Hill Road. The hearing was continued from a Nov. 7 meeting.

Residents of Porter Hill Road said the issue was emotional for them. They have opposed the 1.7 acre community supported agriculture (CSA) in the residential neighborhood since the commission granted a special permit for the commercial farm and greenhouses in 2008.

“Get it off the property. That’s all I want,” Carmen Santoro of 9 Porter Hill Road said.

The Caporasos had been running the CSA on their land wherein members bought shares of the farm pre-season and picked up a basket of produce once a week.

In October, the Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that Whitney and Christopher Caporaso were in violation of that special permit, which states 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 CSA does not qualify as retail operation. That appeal is pending, but the Caporasos have indicated that they would drop the court appeal if the commission grants two 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 said she wants to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and not cause any more problems. She said she has spent thousands of dollars to comply with zoning regulations and requests and simply wants her farm to be profitable. Without the ability to sell produce on her property, Caporaso said she can’t make enough money to earn a living.

Porter Hill Road neighbors, however, said the farm is an eyesore which degrades their quality of life and lowers their property values. They called the exit from Porter Hill Road onto Straitsville a “deathtrap” and argued the farm stand would increase traffic and make the area more dangerous.

Commission Chair Gil Graveline asked whether the Caporasos could limit their hours of operation so as not to coincide with periods of heavier traffic.

“I’m trying not to limit myself if someone wants to stop in,” Caporaso said, pointing out that most of her day is taken up with tending crops.

She requested hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but actual hours would vary depending on the time of year. She contended that traffic wouldn’t be a problem since it is unlikely that more than one or two cars will be there at any given time. She said there is room in the parking lot for cars to park, back out, turn around, and leave nose out.

“I don’t see us causing congestion,” Caporaso said.

Caporaso said there would be no permanent signs for the farm stand, which would be located inside an existing building. There would be two parking areas off of Straitsville Road, with space for five cars each, Caporaso said.

Commissioner Jack Crumb voiced concern that a proposed grass walkway between the two parking lots along the road would not be safe because it goes up a slope. Some of the grass walkway, which is about 12 feet wide, is in the town’s right-of-way.

Land Use Inspector Bill Donovan said the town’s property cuts well into that swath of grass, leaving only a foot between the property line and a stone wall.

“We really don’t want people walking out by the road,” Commissioner Gregory Ploski said.

After hearing the commission’s concerns, Caporaso drew a new walkway which would snake around the back of her property.

Attorney Jeffrey Tinley, representing alternate commission member Dave Santoro, argued that Caporaso’s site plan lacked sufficient detail. Santoro recused himself from the proceeding because he is a neighbor of the CSA.

“If this is an acceptable site plan, I don’t know what your regulations mean,” Tinley said. Although he couldn’t tell since there were no dimensions on the map, Tinley said the parking did not comply with regulations, that it doesn’t include proper landscaping, and that the Caporasos are not in compliance with their existing permit.

“I don’t think the applicant’s being respectful to the board,” Tinley said. “Your job is to protect neighbors. … This is simply the wrong application, the wrong place, and the wrong use.”

At least one neighbor supported the farm stand, and other Prospect residents have spoken in favor of it at past meetings.

Jim Osnato of 21 Coachlight Circle said he signed a petition against the Caporasos before he knew all the details about their farm. He said he was misinformed and regretted the decision.

“I personally don’t see nothing wrong with what they want to do,” Osnato said.

Caporaso granted the board a 15-day extension to render their decision on the application, after the commission said they needed more details on the site plan, including a scale and exact distances for the property line and parking lots. The public hearing was continued to Jan. 18 at 7:10 p.m.