Grace Farms gets OK to rent facility for events
NEW CANAAN — It seems the Grace Farms Foundation has found a way to rent its facility through planned events, as long as it hosts 50 people or less and raises funds for the foundation.
Planning and Zoning Commission members had a back-and-forth discussion Tuesday night, debating whether 12 events that are to be “auctioned off” — essentially rented out and sponsored by Grace Farms — were allowed under the special permit approved in September 2017.
“When we amended the special permit, we included a prohibition against renting the property out, and this sounds like the equivalent of renting the property out, except it’s through a charity,” commissioner John Kriz said at the zoning meeting Tuesday. “That’s one of the key things the neighbors objected to.”
Kriz referenced a Planning and Zoning decision prohibiting Grace Farms from renting out the facility for photo shoots.
Lynn Brooks, the recently hired town planner, confirmed neighbors Timothy Curt and Dona Bissonnette and Grace Farms had sent the town letters Tuesday emphasizing their respective arguments.
Curt and Bissonnette sued Grace Farms last year, claiming their property has and will suffer economic damage due to the foundation’s special permit approval.
“David Sherwood (an attorney representing the neighbors) indicated that if this commission were to approve the list, it would be a violation of the special permit approved in September 2017,” Brooks said.
On the foundation’s calendar, Oct. 13 is scheduled to be the third annual foundation benefit that will include a dinner and live performance.
Brooks noted Edward O’Hanlan, attorney for Grace Farms, had responded that the foundation had seen approval for a similar event list last year and this year’s wouldn’t be different.
“(Grace Farms is) contentious that these are not the Sustainability Events that you prohibited,” Brooks said, referencing events banned by the Planning and Zoning Commission in the special permit.
At a meeting in July, Chairman John Goodwin had delayed the vote on this decision until the August meeting, noting the wording around renting and auctioning off events was peculiar.
“I think it’s a fine line — are you renting out or raising funds for your foundation?” Goodwin said.
Rod Khattabi, Grace Farms’ director of safety and justice initiative adviser, was in attendance at the meeting.
Kriz said the commission should remember the number of people attending and the number of events planned like this by Grace Farms for future reference.
Ultimately, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve the auction items event, despite the sole dissenting vote from Kriz.