June 5, 2020

Op-Ed: Lyme P & Z Needs to Separate “Agricultural” Activities Associated with Farms from “Commercial” Activities

Editor’s Note: Last week, Christopher Roosevelt of Lyme sent the letter below to the Lyme Planning & Zoning Commission on behalf of the Lyme Rural Protection Group. We are publishing it as an Op-Ed due its length.

‘I thought I would reiterate my recommendations regarding separating farm/agricultural pursuits from “commercial” activities of wine tastings and wine sales.

First, as a very fundamental proposition, the Connecticut farm winery act specifically anticipates and clearly leaves the authority to localities to separate the agricultural aspects of a farm winery (widely supported by many in the Town) from the “commercial” aspects such as wine tastings and wine sales.  I understand that this may impose very modest additional costs on a farm winery to resolve having space in an existing commercial district to conduct such tastings and sales, but it clearly goes a long way to support and maintain a town’s residential and rural character, something the vast majority of Lyme residents support.  I hope the Lyme P&Z Commission carefully considers that option and implements it with any new Code changes.  I know that quite a few residents, myself included, would personally and financially support the location of such “commercial” aspects of a farm winery in existing “commercial” districts with personal contributions until the commercial results help to support such activities.  Who is going to pay me back for the commercialization and loss of my rural, residential neighborhood?

Second, I have talked to many residents of the Town of Lyme representing both major political parties and there is clearly a major lack of knowledge and familiarity among the vast bipartisan majority, including a few party leaders, with regard to the proposed zoning code changes.  That, in and of itself, is not a good way to make policy or change regulations, unless, of course, your Commission does not want informed public participation.  I would suggest that you as Chairman and the Commissioners of the Lyme P&Z Commission carefully consider holding at least two or three “town meetings” in two or three areas of the Town to inform and educate the Town’s voters about what is being proposed and what the implications may be in a number of areas, but at least for definitions of “farms” in the Town and the possible tax revenue implications of residents claiming their properties are “farms” and asking for tax reductions.  I think there are many areas in the proposed changes where implications for the Town as a whole have not been carefully considered and may adversely impact the Town.  This should not be done in a hurry up manner or to simply adopt new code measures only to get one winery approved.  That is very bad policy and even worse practice.

Lastly, I would suggest that you and your fellow Town representatives remain aware that there is deeply felt (and quite wide spread) disappointment and criticism on the part of many in the Town for how all this has been handled by the Lyme P&Z Commission.  The words “old boy network” have been used frequently with me.  The possibility of a petition for a referendum on the subject has also been frequently mentioned.  You may have recently won election, but other elections will be happening and this may be a subject for discussion very soon.  That is the ultimate recourse of voters who may be told that the Lyme P&Z is doing all that is legally necessary but, in fact, is not looking out for the best interests of the Town and its voters.  I am a believer in informed, participatory democracy.  That is clearly not happening in this instance.

Thank you and your fellow Commissioners for considering this message.’