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Around The Grange
North Stonington works to make farms more welcome

By Claire Bessette, The New London Day (2/5/10)

  FEBRUARY 6, 2010 --

While many towns might have to handle how new homes could coincide with long established farms, zoning officials here are trying to allow new farms to locate in the midst of existing residential neighborhoods.

More than 50 people crowded into the Town Hall meeting room Thursday to discuss proposed new farming zoning regulations that would broaden the town's definition of farms and agriculture businesses and allow more lenient standards for the numbers of animals per acre.

Those present - some of them farmers, others not, and some vegetarians - had few objections to writing regulations that would at least explore the possibility of allowing a commercial slaughterhouse of modest size in town. They offered similar sentiments about commercial piggeries. Currently, neither operation would be allowed in North Stonington.

Several farmers stressed that the best way for North Stonington to promote farming would be to "leave us alone," as Robert Miner said.

"We're getting over-regulated," he said. Miner is the President of North Stonington Community Grange.

Others said the town should allow facilities such as commercial slaughterhouses, piggeries and smaller farms with more animals than currently and rely on state and local health codes to enforce problems.

But some people said the state health codes and state laws are part of the problem, prohibiting farmers from selling homemade honey or jam at farmers' markets or cheese without a commercial grade kitchen. State Rep. Diane Urban, R-North Stonington, said she has tried and will try again to pass laws to ease some of those restrictions.

Nika Kincaid, co-owner of a small horse farm, said changes are needed to the regulations governing horse farms to allow them to board horses, train horses and offer riding trails. Such equine businesses would not be allowed in the current regulations.

Senior Town Planner Juliet Leeming said fixing definitions for agricultural businesses would solve the problem of horse stables. She said she would research issues involving slaughterhouses to see how it could fit in the regulations.

Consensus in the room was against listing any minimum acreage or specific number of pigs, cows, horses, goats or even chickens, relying instead on health and nuisance laws.

The discussion lasted 90 minutes before the Planning and Zoning Commission moved on with the rest of the regular meeting agenda. Town Planner Juliet Leeming said she would call a second workshop next month to continue the discussion.

Joan Nichols, government relations specialist for the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said farms are shrinking in Connecticut, making regulations for smaller farms more important. Connecticut has 4,700 total farms that meet the U.S Census definition of farms, and 1,800 of them operate on 10 or fewer acres.

She said even with the problems in the town's existing regulations, North Stonington is ahead of many towns in addressing the issues. The town already has a "right-to-farm" ordinance, for example.

But those existing regulations are scattered throughout the town's zoning rulebook. Leeming's plan is to create a chapter dedicated to agricultural activities, spelling out for potential new farming entities what they can expect in town. Existing farms mostly would be untouched by the regulations, she said.



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