A new code regulating farm stands was unanimously adopted yesterday by the Riverhead Town Board over the opposition of civic groups and residents who argue that it will have unintended consequences that may change the rural landscape of Riverhead Town.
The board at the same time amended the Agricultural Protection zoning use district to remove its seven-acre minimum lot size requirement for farm stands; the new code established a two-acre minimum.
Under the newly adopted laws, farm stands will be allowed only in zoning use districts that allow agricultural production as a principal use, on parcels that are in or qualify for the agricultural tax assessment program. Where a parcel is improved with a single-family dwelling, agricultural production does not have to be the principal use, so long as certain criteria are met regarding minimum lot size, type of agricultural production, and percentage of site in agricultural use.
In all instances, no more than 40 percent of the goods sold at a farm stand may be grown or produced off-site. The goods grown or produced off-site must be grown or produced within 250 miles of the farm. These are termed “regionally grown.”
Farm stands may also sell “enhanced agricultural products,” defined as products processed beyond cutting, drying, freezing or packaging, so long as 51 percent of the products ingredients are grown on-site.
Regionally grown products subject to the 40-percent limitation may also include “enhanced agricultural products.”
Farm stands may also sell decorative, non-agricultural products such as containers, pots, tins regardless of where they are manufactured. Those products are not subject to the 40-percent limitation.
It does not establish any limitations on the size of a farm stand. It does require the applicant to show that the site meets the town code’s dimensional table and parking schedule requirements, but does not require the parking area to be improved or paved.
“We’re concerned this will open the door to mega farm stands and shopping areas in the once-rural corridor of Sound Avenue and surrounding regions,” Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Tom O’Haire said in a letter read at yesterday’s meeting by civic group member Mike Foley.
Residents and civic groups expressed concern about allowing farm stands to sell produce grown up to 250 miles away. Sound Shore Road resident Tom Hughes told the board it should be worried about branding, because allowing the sale of produce grown out-of-state will dilute the local brand.
“The crowds want to buy locally grown products. They come out for our vineyards, not our liquor stores,” Hughes said.
Richard Wines, a member of the town’s farmland preservation committee, complained that there is a widespread misunderstanding that the new law redefines “local” as within 250 miles.
“There is nothing in the proposed farm stand code that defines local as being from 250 miles away,” he said.
“The important part of the code is it requires that a farm stand has to be run by a real farmer, who has to run a real farm and has to produce on the farm 60 percent of what he sells,” Wines said. “It allows him some flexibility,” he said, referring to the 40 percent that may be brought in from off-site.
Councilman George Gabrielsen, a Jamesport farmer and the town board’s liaison to the town’s agricultural advisory committee and the farmland preservation committee, said the existing code doesn’t place any distance limitation on what can be sold at farm stands.
“You can have a one-acre farm stand right now and bring in goods from China,” Gabrielsen said. “This will help preserve the rural character of Sound Avenue and Main Road,” he said.
The L.I. Farm Bureau supports the new measure, administrative director Rob Carpenter told the board.
The Farm Bureau’s local affairs committee chairman, Dave McLarin, who is a member of the town’s agricultural advisory committee, said the law is intended to protect local farmers, not hurt them.
“The 250-mile rule is intended to protect a farmer who’s had a blight or storm and lost their crop. It’s intended to help them stay in business,” McLarin said.
Baiting Hollow farmer Jeff Rottkamp described just such a situation in 1992, when the farm lost 60 acres of pumpkins to a storm.
“We had to purchase pumpkins from out-of-state,” Rottkamp said. “After we spent the money to grow them, we had to spend more to buy them. My father went into debt to be able to serve our customers that year.”
McLarin acknowledged in questioning by Supervisor Sean Walter that local farms can no longer produce enough pumpkins to meet the demand during “pumpkin season.” He said Newsday reported a couple of years ago that on Columbus Day weekend 1 million people visited the twin forks.
Democratic supervisor candidate Anthony Coates said the law’s imposition of a 250-mile limit may violate the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from interfering by local law with commerce across state lines.
“If you agree to a regional approach and include produce grown out-of-state, if you include one state you have to include all,” Coates said after the meeting.
Riverhead’s new code, Article XXV of the zoning code, establishes a process for review of eligible new farm stand applications, which is less onerous than the regular site plan review process and does not require a public hearing.
The new code requires an application for a new farm stand to be referred to the Agricultural Advisory Committee — or, if the parcel is preserved land or subject to an agricultural conservation easement, to the Farmland Preservation Committee —— for review and recommendation. The code also sets time limits for the review by the committee and the planning board.
Both pieces of legislation were approved by a 4-0 vote of the board yesterday. (Councilman John Dunleavy was absent.)
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