On July 20, 2022

Farm stand proposal has Hartland in an uproar

By Curt Peterson

No one would argue that the Bedell Farm in Hartland, with its crumbling barn, overgrown fields, poorly-aging home and some rusty implements, wasn’t an eyesore.

So when Rock Webster’s land improvement company cleared the structures, leveled the grounds and planted grass, local residents were elated.

Then stakes appeared, and “the question” filled the air – “What’s going in there?!”

Rendering courtesy of Sunnymeade Farm
A 9,000 square-foot farm store has been proposed in Hartland to the dismay of some residents, others champion it.

In a July 2 listserv post, the Hartland Planning Commission announced an Act 250 application for a 9,000 quare-foot farm store on the property, which is currently zoned rural residential in the town plan. Besides selling local farmers’ products of their own, the stand would have a small performance area and parking for customers.

Sunnymede’s 600-acre farm is on Town Farm Hill Road, a couple of miles from the Bedell site. It produces black Angus beef, maple syrup, and, according to their website, host chickens, pigmy goats, hybrid sheep and horses. The owner, Aubrey Ferrao, is a successful real estate developer in Naples, Florida.

The Planning Commission’s notice set the Hartland listserv humming.

Commenters’ posts can be categorized not only by pro v con, but also by topics. Those who like the Sunnymede proposal cite additional tax revenue, aesthetic improvement, an attraction for tourists bringing traffic to local businesses, and jobs for Hartland area residents. Those against the project think it’s too large, consider owners out of touch “out-of-towners,” fear environmental damage, rue the loss of Hartland’s rural character and predict local businesses such as the Hartland Diner and BG’s Market would suffer.

Diner owner Nicole Bartner and Bill Gaucher of BG’s both say they favor Sunnymede’s proposal.

A few detractors expressed resentment of Ferrao’s reputed wealth.

Much finger-pointing targets the Select Board and Planning Commission, which have already been working for years on an update of the 2017 Hartland town plan as required by state statute, when the Sunnymede proposal became known.

Resident Gary Trachier wrote a detailed objection focusing on the Select Board’s and town manager’s handling of the town plan update while Sunnymede’s application is in play. Trachier posted on the listserv, “… our Town Manager [David Ormiston] has been working with Sunnymede’s attorney [Andrew Lechner] to change the new draft town plan to accommodate the farm-stand project.”

Ormiston told the Mountain Times he has spoken to Lechner only twice — once to respond to the attorney’s questions and comments during a public discussion of the town plan, and later to inform Lechner that the plan was on the next Select Board meeting agenda.

Trachier has never discussed the accuracy of any of his impressions of the process with Ormiston directly.

Trachier’s post reached 300-plus listserv members. He told the Mountain Times, “I do not think the farm-stand, in that location and size, is in our best long-term interest.” He believes the land should be left in “Rural Residential” status.

Act 250 applications come entirely under state purview. The town can cite issues related to Hartland’s town plan to dispute state approval, but final authority belongs to the Vermont Natural Resources Board, which uses criteria such as water supply, impact on water supply, erosion and capacity of soil to hold water, transportation, educational services and municipal services when considering an applicant’s proposal.

As of July 18, Sunnymede’s Act 250 application is pending, waiting for additional information requested by the NRB after preliminary review.

Meanwhile, at the Select Board’s request, Ormiston worked with the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission to produce a “discussion model” town plan, incorporating the Planning Commission’s and public’s suggested amendments, to be used only as a starting point for board discussions, not as a proposed town plan draft.

Assuming the NRB gives Sunnymede preliminary approval vis-a-vis Act 250, and deems it a “major” project, a public hearing is required. A “minor project” designation would mean parties with standing,including the Select Board, neighboring property owners and local public agencies can request a hearing to voice their objections or requests for conditions or amendments, but there is no guarantee such a hearing or their request would be granted.

As resident Cheryl Perry wrote, “Change is hard. Whatever the end decision, some will be pleased and others unhappy. What we can hope for is an outcome that is in the best long-term interest of the entire town.”

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