Bested in Legal Arguments, Attorneys for Grace Farms Now Pursue Changes to Zoning Regulations

Grace Farms last week conceded a key legal point in its long-running bid to secure permission for robust and varied activities at its Lukes Wood Road campus. Attorneys on behalf of Grace Farms have argued that the organization is allowed to operate not only as a religious institution, as defined in the New Canaan Zoning Regulations and as approved four years ago, but—with approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission—as a club/organization and philanthropic/charitable agency, too. Gaining those new “use designations” formed the major goal of an application filed in September on behalf of Grace Farms by attorneys with Stamford-based Robinson & Cole. Yet lawyers retained by neighbors—concerned since Grace Farms opened to the public in October 2015 about what’s actually happening there, as opposed to what had been described during public hearings—successfully argued that the regulations do not allow for more than one “principal use” at Grace Farms.

That has forced the organization now to withdraw its full application with P&Z and first pursue a text change to those regulations. Neighbors Jennifer Holme and David Markatos, who are represented by attorney Amy Souchuns of Milford-based Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff LLC, told that they are “pleased to see that the town has finally recognized that having multiple principal uses in the 4-acre, lowest density residential zone is in direct contravention of not only New Canaan’s zoning regulations and special permit criteria but also the Plan of Conservation and Development.”

The Smith Ridge Road residents noted that in an April 21 report Donald Poland, a planning consultant at New York City-based Goman+York, found that the number of principal uses Grace Farms actually is seeking is seven: foundation, church, club, restaurant, commercial conference center, public park and office building.

100 Years Later: Smith Ridge Homeowners Mark Historic Milestone for 1740s-Built Antique

The “ghosts” of 1328 Smith Ridge Road began appearing soon after Jennifer Holme and David Markatos bought the historic home 16 years ago. A ca. 1742-built, wood shingle-clad house whose rich history stretches back six decades before New Canaan’s incorporation, the prominent maroon-colored structure sits close to the road—as is common for antiques—and is one of the last homes that northbound motorists pass before crossing into New York State. Holme, who works in finance, and Markatos, a lawyer, are northern Westchester natives and the house was the first they purchased together as a married couple. “What happened was, sort of serendipitously, whenever there was a high school reunion or things like that, we’d get letters in the mailbox from people who used to live here asking if they could stop by,” Markatos recalled on a recent afternoon, standing in front of an original mantle in this lovingly preserved front room (likely a classic salt box in its original construction).