Stonington OKs Agricultural District for Maple Lawn Farm with Conditions

Stonington's Planning and Zoning Commission approved Maple Leaf Farm as an Agricultural Heritage District (CT Examiner).

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STONINGTON — With stipulations on parking, amplified sound, stormwater, and other issues, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved an Agricultural Heritage District for Maple Lawn Farm on Tuesday.

Included in the approval was a master plan to “create a campus for food, education and events”  on the 15.59-acre parcel where a historic farm now stands at 343 Wheeler Road and an unaddressed 21.56-acre parcel directly across on Wheeler Road. The approval allows property owners Paul and Sharyn Cerullo to submit a site plan for specific activities that will require another public hearing and commission approval. 

The master plan includes events of three sizes: small (4 to 10+ people), group (10 to 50 people), and large (50 to 175 people). 

Small events will consist of “cultural classes, seminars, farm-to-table production and cooking classes, art workshops, and small dining events” held a maximum of three times per week year-round, between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Group events will focus on nonprofit fundraising and take place on a weekly basis from the spring to fall between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Large events include catered weddings, fundraisers and special events, accommodated in a large tent with amplified sound, held a maximum of two times per week or 20 maximum events per year from the spring to fall, between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.  

The master plan also included farming, animal husbandry and raising waterfowl as uses for the land, and the establishment of a farmers market. Additionally, long- or short-term are permitted in the three residential units on the property.  

During the Tuesday discussion, Commissioner Lynn Conway questioned the number of allowed events, saying it was high compared to other agricultural districts in town. 

“If we say it’s approved for X number of events — small, medium, and large — and it happens, we’re saying that’s excessive, so you might want to think about capping the total numbers either a week, a month or even a season,” she said. 

Commissioner Andy Meek said committing to just one large event per week “would quell a lot of the concerns” when the site plan is submitted. 

Commission Chair Charles Sheehan questioned the 88 parking spaces designated for a grassy area, a surface he said would be difficult to adapt for ADA compliance. He also questioned the long-term viability of grass as a parking surface and the accompanying runoff issues.  

“Do you really think grass is a good wearing surface for a parking lot with the kind of use this is going to get? There won’t be issues with sedimentation being washed off … and transported downstream?” he said.

Meek said his experience as the farm manager at another Stonington Agricultural Heritage District property bore out Sheehan’s comments. 

“They thought they could get away with not putting down gravel for the event parking. I spent the first year that they did events pulling people out of the mud with my farm tractor,” Meek said. “Anything you do will be better than assuming a field will be adequate for parking.” 

Sheehan mentioned the necessity of alternative solutions to stabilize the parking area surface. The commission also said a comprehensive stormwater plan would be required for the site. 

During public comment, neighbor Carole Nossek expressed concern that larger events will likely occur on Friday and Saturday nights and that the music will carry to nearby areas. 

“As far as sound … you can’t predict this, which way the wind is blowing. We can hear I-95 from our house so we’re certainly going to be able to hear music,” she said.“There’s just a lot of concerns. This just seems too big for this small area.” 

The commission ultimately made a stipulation that amplified sounds must be confined to the property’s tents during large events.

But neighbor Richard Webb, a landscape architect, said the “true impacts” of the plan could not be evaluated until the site plan was submitted, including issues of drainage, lighting, traffic and site archaeology. 

Resident Todd Moore urged the commission to vote against the zoning change.

“Given the uncertainty in the application as it stands now and given the fact that we moved to this area because of its rural, dark and quiet nature, I urge you to preserve that and to vote no,” Moore said. 

Lisa Konicki, Stonington resident and president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, said she supported the zone change and that she looked forward to the dialogue continuing between the applicant and the community.

After further discussion, the commission unanimously approved the application, with stipulations on sound amplification, parking lot stabilization requirements, stormwater development, use of heating or air conditioning equipment, that alcohol must not be served after 9 p.m., and that all events be stopped at 10 p.m.