Grace Farms may not host revenue-generating events, must remove the “sound sculpture” from a pond on its property and may not advertise its food service establishment as a standalone amenity, according to conditions now under consideration by the town as part of the organization’s closely followed application.
At the same time, the Lukes Wood Road facility may expand the operating hours of its “Commons” cafeteria, as well as its “Tea Room,” may sell books, souvenirs and other items, can let outside groups use its gym and may continue as a religious organization while also calling itself a club or philanthropic agency, under some of the 25 findings and 99 conditions now in draft form before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
P&Z is scheduled to take up the application, again, at its regular 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Town Hall.
Commissioners in their deliberations since closing the public hearing on Grace Farms have said that the organization is unlike any that’s come before P&Z in the past. That said, if approved, the revised permit expected to set a new standard for what’s allowable with respect to institutional uses in residential zones in town. Following changes to the language of New Canaan’s Zoning Regulations sought by Grace Farms—specifically, by allowing organizations to have more than one principal use—the town already has set itself up to receive an entirely new category of application from local institutions.
The conditions that P&Z is considering appear to seek a compromise between the wide and unprecedented latitude Grace Farms had been seeking and concerns voiced by some neighbors about how such an intense use of the overall 75-acre site would continue to affect privacy, noise, security, lighting and traffic.
For example, here’s a look at what P&Z is considering in terms of events. Here’s what Grace had applied for:
Events: What Grace Farms Wanted
|What Grace wanted||Type||No. people||Frequency|
|"Sustainability" **||up to 300||24/year|
** "Sustainability" means revenue-generating
And here’s what P&Z is considering for approval:
Events: What P&Z Is Considering
|Casual||up to 200||Unlimited|
|Very large||1,200+||None without P&Z approval|
Asked for a comment on P&Z’s resolution, a spokesperson for Grace Farms Foundation issued a statement attributable to the organization saying it “has received a copy of the draft permit from the Town Planner.”
“We are reviewing it internally and we look forward to attending the deliberations by the P&Z Commission this coming Tuesday night,” the statement said.
Asked for their thoughts on the draft resolution, neighbors Jennifer Holme and David Markatos said in a statement that they “remain very concerned about the intensity of three principal uses at the property and the concomitant adverse impacts and encroachments on the surrounding residential neighborhood.”
“The commission’s proposed activity chart fails to take into account the activity levels of Grace Community Church—representing more than 73,000 visitors annually to the property—or general public usage of more than 55,000 annual visitors based upon the applicant’s own traffic report. All in, the surrounding neighborhood of Luke’s Wood Road, Michigan and upper Smith Ridge Roads is looking at more than 230,000 annual visitors to this institutional property in the first year. We just don’t see how that intensity of usage squares with the lowest density 4-acre residence zone in New Canaan. It would be unprecedented.”
The draft resolution also appears to leave out a requirement included in prior approvals for the Grace Farms permit that’s being amended—approvals frrom 2007 and 2013—that require the organization to set aside a 4-acre area between two neighbors’ homes as open space.
Some of P&Z’s conditions—drafted in consultation with former Town Planner Steve Palmer, who stepped down from the role earlier this month—appear to seek better tracking of just how many people are coming and going at Grace Farms, and for what purposes.
For example, the draft resolution stipulates: “Grace Farms Foundation shall maintain a contemporaneous log of all vehicles and people entering and existing the site in real time and shall also log the reason for the visit noted (church program, foundation program, recreation program, other purpose, general visit).”
And in addition to a more comprehensive annual report, Grace Farms each month is to submit a report to P&Z detailing scheduled events for the month to come, including their size, “the number of people and vehicles on site per day and per hour for the past month, including a summary of site activity relative to the Activity Chart approved by the Commission for the month and for the calendar year to date, a summary of any security events on the site in the prior month and corrective actions taken (including an updates to the emergency action plan and/or security site assessment report), summary of any complaints logged with regard to operations on the site for the prior calendar month, the source of such complaint and any corrective action taken.”
P&Z in its resolution notes that a former town planner several months after Grace Farms opened the public in the fall of 2015 found that the organization had already run afoul of its existing permit—a finding echoed by Palmer in January.
Even so, P&Z said in its resolution: “Based on the significant public comments in the record, the Commission finds that Grace Farms Foundation provides substantial economic, social and cultural benefits to the community through its activities and in making the property accessible to the public.”
Other parts of the resolution require that Grace Farms must limit on-site parking to its 226 spaces and shuttle in anyone beyond that from an off-site area in Vista, N.Y. Grace also must use police to direct traffic if more than 600 people are expected at the site, and may not use tour buses unless they’re “used specifically by Glass House as extension of their own tours” or for getting local school kids or invited guests to a scheduled event, according to the draft approval.
Grace also may use its existing outdoor athletic field for church or Foundation-sponsored activities, such as recreational sports, the resolution said. But “it is not to be rented or use by outside organizations,” and cannot be lighted.
Grace Farms also must rework its trails as per a proposal the organization had submitted, and by next March must implement new fencing and screening according to a new landscape plan submitted to P&Z, the draft conditions say. Tours on the property are limited in their attendees and must stay within 200 feet of the “River” building and within 100 feet of the “Barn” buildings, the resolution said.
Holme and Markatos in their statement said that “even during the pendency of these zoning proceedings,” to date there has been no enforcement “by the town of operating conditions that have been repeatedly flouted by the applicant.”
“We fully expect the town to enforce the operating conditions of this latest permit should the applicant continue to operate as if it has carte blanche over applicable wetlands and zoning regulations,” they said.