After permit OK, Grace Farms looks to move forward
Updated 1:38 pm, Friday, September 29, 2017
NEW CANAAN — The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a list of over 100 new conditions of use for Grace Farms.
The roughly yearlong approval process finally came to an end after an hour-long debate going through each condition, correcting language and grammar. The process was one Planning and Zoning Chairman John Goodwin admitted he didn’t see coming when he voted to approve the Grace Farms Foundation’s original permit in 2013.
“I think Grace Farms is making wonderful contributions to the town in many respects,” Goodwin said. “In terms of open space, in terms of continuing our tradition of modern architecture, in terms of sending people into town,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s absolutely clear the neighbors in many respects have been aggrieved. I think what we tried to accomplish here allows Grace Farms to continue on their mission, but on the other hand offers a level of protection to neighbors.”
Grace Farms was also satisfied with the approved conditions.
“We are grateful to the Planning and Zoning Department and the P&Z Commissioners for their time and their thoughtful deliberations during a yearlong process,” said Chairwoman and President of the Grace Farms Foundation, Sharon Prince. “We would also like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the many, many people in New Canaan who over the past year have spoken in support of Grace Farms Foundation and our work in the community. The approval of this special permit reflects the hard work of many individuals to come together to create a new kind of place for New Canaan. We are eager to continue our work and to advance good locally and in the world.”
Grace Farms first came back before the commission seeking an amended special permit in October 2016, after then-Town Planner Steve Kleppin investigated complaints from neighbors about the facility and suggested Grace address them before town officials. In the interim, Grace submitted and then withdrew two applications, before resubmitting a third application in March seeking an amendment in zoning regulations to permit multiple principle uses, as well as an amended special permit. Grace’s request for multiple principle uses — deemed a “threshold issue” by concerned neighbors — was approved in July, paving the way for this most recent approval.
The board went through each item in the conditions, debating issues like hours, event pacing and the marking of trail pathways, which neighbors had previously complained had come too close to their property. Critiques also ranged to the minute though, such as adding and correcting punctuation marks and debating the use of terms like “dusk” versus “sunset” versus “sundown,” in relation to Grace’s hours of operation and use of lights in the all-glass River Building.
However, the board unanimously approved the items after minor corrections, including an item that stated for the record that the commission does find Grace Farms contributes to the community in economic, social and cultural ways.
“This is our best judgment,” said board member Jack Flinn. “We have all the faith in the world. People at Grace Farms are wonderful people. They’re good and they’re trying to do the right thing. I think we have a wonderful facility in this town. If these constraints, if you can call them constraints, turn out to be too constrictive, we invite Grace Farms people to come and tell us that in the future.”
A request for comment from attorneys representing residential neighbors of Grace Farms involved in legal action against the site were not returned as of press time.