By Curt Peterson
The controversial Sunnymede Farm Stand project attracted many to two events on Monday, Sept. 19— a 9:30 a.m. site tour and a 10:30 a.m. Act 250 commission public hearing at Hartland’s Damon Hall. Peter Kopsco, commission coordinator, said 40 people attended the hearing.
People walked through tall, wet grass along Route 5/12, just north of the I-91 Hartland exit, reviewing the layout for a 7,600 square foot farm store proposed by Sunnymede Farms, LLC.
Abby Dery and Colin Johnson of Trudell Consulting Engineers led the tour.
The proposal drew a lot of attention among residents when the Act 250 permit application was filed on June 17, and residents saw the vacant property being staked out.
The in-person hearing included three District III Act 250 commissioners and Kopsco. Only a few residents granted “party status” by the commissioners were allowed to submit questions or comments. Statutory parties included the Hartland Select Board, represented by chair Phil Hobbie, the Hartland Planning Commission, and the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, represented by Peter Gregory.
The Sunnymede team outlined the proposal. The building, parking lot and utilities will utilize less than one acre, Dery said. SM Farms Shop intends to sell beef, pork, chicken and eggs, lamb, maple syrup and honey produced at heir farm 2 miles from the site, which, SM’s attorney Jim Goss said, will comprise approximately 60 to 70 percent of gross revenue, including products from other local farms. The balance will be ancillary to those products, and baked and deli goods.
The store would be open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days. An early proposal for an outdoor music venue has been deleted from the Act 250 application.
The plan shows 46 parking spaces, landscaping, and super-charge stations for electric vehicles. Orchard trees and chicken facilities may be added later.
Goss said the store will employ 12-15, and add $1 million to the town’s Grand List and serve local people as well as tourists.
Traffic safety, waste water and water supply systems, fire suppression, nearby brook protection, and entrance/exit cutouts have been permitted, Dery said.
No rare or endangered species have been identified on the property.
The Hartland Select Board has no official opinion on the project, Hobbie said. The Hartland planning commission and the regional commission disagree with the developer over definition the proposed use. Chair Charles Jeffries said the planners object to the project due to incompatibility with the town plan.
Hartland has no zoning ordinance, but town plan policy designates the site as a “low-density rural residential and home business district,” and they consider the SM Farms Store a “commercial retail business,” he explained.
Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission’s Peter Gregory agreed — the Regional Commission was involved in developing the Hartland Town Plan – “… retail stores should be limited to village centers only, a policy that has been supported by other towns for four decades.”
Goss defended Sunnymede’s “farm stand” theory, and will respond to the planners’ objections quickly — he had received their opinion on Friday.
Residents with party status asked questions and expressed opinions on the project. Most of their concerns had been mitigated by Dery’s list of permits indicating safety and environmental issues have been satisfactorily handled. Other objections were aesthetic in nature.
The 50 mile-per-hour speed limit, changing to 40 mile-per-hour halfway through the site, was reaffirmed by VTrans, Dery said, as visibility, historic traffic counts and low accident rates didn’t warrant permit conditions.
The hearing is in recess, during which the parties can submit additional arguments and evidence. Once that process is complete, the commissioners will publicize their final determination within 20 days.