Letter: Grace Farms Has Earned New Canaan’s Support


To The Editor:

Congratulations to Grace Farms on completing its first year of operation this month. It’s a magnificent facility, a beautiful and inspiring $125 million treasure that New Canaan is extremely fortunate to have. It’s high time that we show our appreciation.

Grace Farms’ recent request to amend its 2013 Special Permit (see “Pending P&Z Commission Applications” on the Town’s website) will be taken up at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on October 25. The amendment would revise and clarify the scope of activities to occur on the site. The request should be supported by New Canaan residents, and it should be approved.

Unfortunately, at least one neighbor’s opposition persists, nine years after Grace Farms’ initial permit application. Paul Ostling of 1196 Smith Ridge Road, and his lawyer Joe Rucci, aired their complaints in last week’s New Canaan Advertiser.

Mr. Ostling says of Grace Farms that “They do good work . . . who can deny they do good work?” But in demanding that Grace Farms shut down many of its activities, Mr. Ostling seems to believe that too much good work is a bad thing if it’s in his neighborhood.

Ostling demands that Grace Farms be limited to “just a church,” although it’s not clear that he would derive any direct benefit if that were to occur. In fact, no one would benefit.

But, let’s paint the picture nevertheless. Let’s assume that Grace Farms Foundation steps aside in response to Mr. Ostling’s demands, and transfers ownership and control to Grace Farms Community Church.

First, it’s unlikely that any activities would be curtailed, as community service and social justice have always been central to the Church’s mission. Indeed, it’s quite common for churches to engage in all the activities to which Mr. Ostling objects. Without controversy, churches pursue social justice initiatives, host conferences, house community meetings, serve food, conduct tours, open themselves to public visitors, and much more.

Second, P&Z’s power to regulate activity at Grace Farms would be constrained by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (See William Malone’s letter).

Those of us not inclined to shoot ourselves in the foot should welcome the decision by Grace Farms Foundation to continue to hold ownership of the property, and to operate the non-religious activities under the full scrutiny of P&Z.

This is not to diminish the importance of grievances by neighbors, to the extent any legitimate ones have survived the nine-year process of dialogue, hearings, litigation and accommodations. Mr. Ostling has a list, but it’s not credible.

He states that his security and privacy are threatened by walking tours, and the use of “walking paths next to my property.” I hadn’t heard this before, so I visited Grace Farms last week to confirm. I found no walking paths anywhere near Mr. Ostling’s property, just a well-screened parking lot that comes no closer than 300 feet from his house. Walking tours come no closer than 400 feet, with even greater screening.

In fact, the only part of Mr. Ostling’s home that is visible by anyone in Grace Farms is his roof line and the top of his chimney. To see what’s going on in Grace Farms, he may want to climb up there. If he does, he’ll see a tranquil 80-acre scene that would have appealed to the best artists of the Hudson Valley school.

Mr. Ostling also complains about traffic, environmental impact, and property values, but studies by reputable professionals refute all of these concerns.

In their interview, Mr. Ostling and Mr. Rucci accuse Grace Farms of dishonesty and deceit. Grace Farms recent application includes a letter by Edward O’Hanlan that rebuts these accusations, citing actual utilization data from the first year of Grace Farms’ operation.

But let’s again explore the logic. Even if incorrect estimates of future activities had been made years ago, would the appropriate remedy be to restrict beneficial philanthropic work?

Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy included the funding of 3000 public libraries. If he had underestimated the extent of their use, would the appropriate remedy have been to remove books?

Grace Farms is no longer just a concept. It’s actually having a highly beneficial impact on our lives. Our world needs more of what it offers, not less.

If the neighbors experience direct and significant harm as a result of Grace Farms’ activities, they should show it, and the October 25 P&Z meeting gives them yet another opportunity to do so. But absent specific adverse impacts on neighbors, P&Z should eschew the role of deciding how much good Grace Farms is permitted to do.

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