Farmer criticizes Stonington ban on raising rabbits
Stonington ― The owner of Mystic River Farm says he may be forced to move his proposed farm out of town after the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected his request to remove rabbits from a list of farm animals that can’t be raised in town.
In November, Marc Lotti, owner of the farm on North Stonington Road, submitted an application to the commission to amend a town zoning regulation that prohibits the keeping, raising and breeding rabbits.
After a Jan. 17 public hearing, which saw no public opposition, the commission denied Lotti’s application, which would have allowed him to raise rabbits for meat and breed them for sale as pets.
Current regulations ban the raising, keeping and breeding of foxes, minks, pigs, rodents, rabbits and other animals considered fur-bearing.
“According to Planning and Zoning, this is the first farm to start up in Stonington in over 50 years,” Lotti said about his small scale farm that was intended to produce eggs, fresh pasta, honey, produce and rabbit among other items as well as teach children about sustainable farming and food sources.
Lotti is a proponent of “zero kilometer” food, a movement originating in Europe that seeks to increase the availability of locally grown and produced foods, reducing the environmental impact of transportation and promoting the local economy.
He said he may be forced to move his planned 20-acre farm as a result of the decision and had already identified two potential properties in neighboring towns.
A staff report by Town Planner Keith Brynes noted that North Stonington, Groton and Ledyard all allow rabbits and none of the towns reported any issues caused by rabbit farming.
The PZC gave two reasons for its denial― that the issue would be addressed by the ongoing comprehensive rewrite of zoning regulations and that Lotti had failed to show that his amendment conformed to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
But Brynes’ report states that the amendment appears to support the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
“The justification for this denial was seemingly bureaucratic, in that the Commission kicked the issue down the road until a comprehensive rewrite of the Town’s master plan was completed, instead of addressing the matter and improving the Town now,” Lotti wrote in a email last week to First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough.
In the email, he requested that she ask the commission to reconsider the application, though it would be under no obligation to do so.
“That the Commission did not recognize that this amendment directly conforms to the Plan of Conservation and Development and enhances farming options in the Town is perplexing. It is precisely this type of farming innovation and pro-agriculture stance that the Town needs,” he continued.
The current Plan of Conservation and Development encourages preservation of rural areas through agricultural use and calls for the town to support local farmers, encourage the preservation of farmland and find ways to promote the continued use of current farmland for agricultural purposes.
Brynes said none of the town, area, or state offices he contacted, including the Conservation Commission, the consultant rewriting the zoning regulations for the town, the Southeastern Council of Governments, Ledge Light Health District and others, noted any problems with the amendment.
“To deny farmers incremental progress towards the Town’s objectives of increasing low-density greenspace, diversifying Town activity (beyond real estate and tourism), and increasing local food production through farms, appears quite anti-farming. It sends a negative message to me and the broader community about Stonington’s current and planned identity,” noted Lotti’s email.