Next Monday, Feb. 29, Lyme Planning and Zoning (P & Z) Commission will host the Public Hearing/Regular Meeting that was previously scheduled for Feb. 8, but had to be cancelled due to the snowstorm that day. The Feb. 29 meeting will be held at Lyme Consolidated School starting at 7:30 p.m.
The agenda opens with an application by Richard and Kathleen Pfannenstiel for a special permit to construct a boat dock at 65 Cove Rd. in Outer Hamburg Cove, for which there will be first a Public Hearing, and then the application will be considered in the Commission’s Regular Meeting.
But the part of the meeting almost guaranteed to draw a large crowd comes in the next agenda item when the P & Z Commission considers, “Proposed changes to the Lyme Zoning and Subdivision Regulations, which address principally farms, agriculture and farm wineries.” These have been published on the Town’s website at this link.
Lyme’s Zoning Enforcement Officer Bernie Gigliotti explained to LymeLine.com that the Commission has been talking about updating the regulations for a couple of years. He noted that some two years ago the Town of Lebanon had introduced new regulations to protect and enhance farms and farming, and consequently the Town of Lyme “had been talking about making changes [to its own] regulations ever since.”
Gigliotti commented, however, that the event which really “triggered the action” was the application by the owners of Sunset Hill Vineyard in Lyme for a Special Exception Permit to offer tastings and sell wine at its Elys Ferry Rd. farm. When the P & Z Commission discussed the application back in November last year, more than 175 residents attended the hearing, but the Commission did not end up rendering a decision on the vineyard’s application. Gigliotti explained that the reason no decision was taken was many of the speakers — both for and against the proposal — contended that the Town’s zoning regulations needed to be updated before the application could be considered.
Gigliotti, who freely admitted, “Our regulations were very deficient in how we treated vineyards,” described the combination of circumstances as “A Perfect Storm” in terms of providing a catalyst to move forward with the process of updating the regulations. When the P & Z Commission agreed at the end of the November Public Hearing that the update should be done as soon as possible, vineyard owners Matt Caruso and Donna Moore withdrew their application to await the revision.
At Monday night’s P & Z meeting, the Commission will first host a Public Hearing on the proposed amendments to the Town’s zoning regulations. Speakers for and against the proposal can again be expected since Laura and Kieran Mooney, who live immediately opposite Sunset Hill Vineyard, had issued a statement on behalf of the Lyme Rural Protection Group (LRPG) prior to the postponed Feb. 8 meeting. The statement said in part, “We do not encourage the re-zoning of residential areas to permit commercial and retail enterprises nor do we support tourism … the group opposes several of the proposed changes and additions to the Town of Lyme Zoning Regulations as they have been currently drafted because we believe that they will fundamentally change the character of the town.”
Gigliotti commented to LymeLine.com that if the changes to the regulations are approved by the Commission Monday evening, Sunset Hill Vineyard will then be able to re-apply for a Special Exception Permit. He noted the regulations will then be in a much improved form to deal with the application and that the issue seemed to have come down to the sale of wine on the premises. Gigliotti said, “People don’t seem to have a problem with them making wine.”
Those objecting to the proposal contend that it will be allowing a retail business in a part of town that is now solely residential and farming in character, while vineyard supporters have argued that Lyme has successfully retained its rural identity in part precisely because it has encouraged farming enterprises.
Caruso, who moved to Lyme in 1974, told LymeLine.com that selling wine has always been part of the business plan to make the vineyard viable. He stressed the vineyard would not be hosting weddings, accommodating buses nor opening a café and that tastings will be restricted to ‘Appointment Only’ events from May to October and occasional holidays.
One of the vineyard’s most vocal supporters and a farm owner himself is Chip Dahlke of Ashlawn Farm on Bill Hill Rd. in Lyme. He wrote in a Facebook post prior to the cancelled Feb. 8 meeting, “The Town of Lyme has rewritten its regulations to allow vineyards to operate within the town. I urge everyone to attend this meeting and support the change of regulations.” Dahlke continued, “[It] is important to keep the town open for agriculture and maintain its character, not simply to be another elitist community along the shoreline.”
Gigliotti noted that an “overwhelming” number — 91 percent — of respondents to the survey related to the 2014 Lyme Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) were “in favor of promoting and enhancing farms and farming in Lyme.” He commented that operating a farm requires generation of income and is not something done for “altruistic value.”
The LRPG also cited the POCD in their statement saying, “We would encourage the town to maintain those regulations that currently support farming, agriculture and open spaces,” but points out, “[The POCD] discourages tourism and the development of commercialism, including retail, outside the existing commercially zoned areas in Hamburg and Hadlyme such as those proposed by the change in regulations.”
Gigliotti said he did not know whether the Commission would hold a vote on whether to approve the regulations at next Monday’s meeting. He said the Commission could vote, but that decision would likely depend on members’ reactions to comments from the public.