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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Stonington planning board approves Stone Acres proposal amid public support

    Members of the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission walk past the manor house, at left, and garden during a tour of Stone Acres Farm on Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Stonington. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stonington — Almost 100 residents, mostly in support, filled the Mystic Middle School cafeteria Tuesday night for the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed master plan for Stone Acres Farm.

    After it closed the hearing Tuesday, the commission unanimously voted to approve the master plan.

    Representatives of the farm’s local ownership group spent 90 minutes outlining the history of the 381 N. Main St. farm, the proposed layout of buildings and their uses, architectural designs, views from the street and other details.

    After questions from commission members, residents began to speak in favor of the plan.

    Larry Davis, whose family has run a large farm off Greenhaven Road since colonial times, told the commission that in the farming business, “if you can’t sustain your business, you can’t preserve your land.”

    He called the Stone Acres proposal a forward-thinking plan that fits the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

    Lisa Konicki, the president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, told commissioners the popularity of agritourism continues to grow across the country. She called the Stonington Acres plan agritourism at its best.

    Konicki added the plan maintains a wonderful balance of preservation and low-impact commercialization, which will protect the town’s character while creating jobs and tax revenue.

    Project attorney Bill Sweeney wrapped up his presentation by pointing out that it was fitting to be presenting a plan to preserve farmland on national Agriculture Day. He told the commission that the intent is to always keep the Stone Acres site a working farm.

    “Let’s make sure that vision becomes a reality,” he said.

    When Sweeney asked supporters of the plan to stand, almost all in the cafeteria did.

    Stone Acres already has obtained approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission to create a new Agricultural Heritage District, which is designed to preserve historical farms in town by allowing an expanded list of farm-related uses. Farms must have 35 acres and have been in continuous use for 25 years. Stone Acres has 65 acres and been in use since before the Revolutionary War.

    Jane Meiser, a member of the ownership group, has said the farm would serve as a model for preservation that other farmers in the community and the region could use.

    Now that the commission has approved the master plan, Stone Acres also has to obtain approval for its detailed site plan, which would require another public hearing.

    The ownership group estimates the project would create the equivalent of 54 full-time jobs, some off site. With the new uses, the property would generate an estimated $119,000 in annual tax revenue for the town, compared to the current $21,000. The group’s analysis estimates the town would experience a $130,000 net loss in taxes if the land were converted into a residential subdivision, primarily because of the cost of educating schoolchildren.

    “This is a win-win proposal from an economic development perspective,” Sweeney told the commission.

    The project calls for repurposing existing buildings and constructing two new ones. The existing manor house and farmhouse would be rented in conjunction with those involved in a wedding or corporate events on the property, but rooms would not be rented to the general public.

    The carriage house would become space for a vegetable market, cheese making, bakery and butchery as well as an apartment for the grounds manager and staff.

    The greenhouse would be turned into a restaurant and cafe that would feature farm-to-table offerings using produce grown on the farm and other locally sourced food.

    Two new buildings would be constructed. A 6,100-square-foot barn that would have cold storage facilities, a large open area for food cleaning and packaging, and a commercial kitchen to support event catering and food preparations.

    A 8,100-square-foot building would house a creamery, brewery/brew pub and classrooms for educational programs on culinary arts, historical preservation and farming in a new building. There are also plans for temporary tents in a large field for weddings and gatherings of up to 250 people.

    Plans also calls for “reinvigorating” the property’s historical formal gardens and ponds area, planting new orchards, developing walking trails and building a new main entrance to the north of the existing entrance off North Main Street. Vegetables, hay and flowers will continue to be grown on site. There are no plans to raise livestock.

    j.wojtas@theday.com

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