Letter: Article on Grace Farms Misrepresents, Misleads

Dear Editor:

As the attorney for Grace Farms Foundation, Inc. in its “Renewed Application for Second Amended Special Permit” before the Planning and Zoning Commission, I write to correct serious inaccuracies in the above-referenced article you wrote yesterday [“Bested in Legal Arguments, Attorneys for Grace Farms ….” published April 23]. These inaccuracies misrepresent the procedural posture of the Foundation’s Renewed Application and misleadingly suggest that the Commission has already acted on a part of it. You mention late in the article the “prepared statement” of the Foundation on its decision, and focus instead on the speculation of persons who did not participate in the decision. However, the Foundation’s statement of its decision to withdraw and then refile its Renewed Application relates precisely what transpired between Commission Counsel Ira Bloom, Town Planner Steve Palmer, and the undersigned on Friday, April 21, 2017. Indeed, the reason the Foundation published its statement was to avoid the very uncorroborated speculation in which you have engaged.

Grace Farms Refutes Complaints Lodged on Behalf of Neighbors

Complaints from two sets of neighbors about the Grace Farms’ failure to comply with temporary measures imposed by the town are in at least one respect inaccurate, according to an attorney representing the Lukes Wood Road organization. Claims that lights at the Grace Farms’ River Building were on all night last week with the exception of Tuesday are “simply not true,” according to a March 7 response letter, sent to the town planner by Ted O’Hanlan of Stamford-based Robinson + Cole. “We are happy to meet with you in person to review our camera footage,” O’Hanlan said in the letter, which he also forwarded Thursday to NewCanaanite.com. Painting a sunnier picture of Grace Farms’ communications with those whose concerns last year compelled the organization to file an application to amend its zoning permit, O’Hanlan said it “has been working with all its neighbors and with your offices to collect information and viewpoints, as it considers the amended application that it has agreed to file by March 15.”

“This effort has included correspondence, discussions and meetings with neighbors, landscape architects, and you [Palmer], on February 17th. We anticipate a further meeting with the neighbors in advance of our submission, when the screening/buffer plans are received from the landscape architects.

Chief Building Official: ‘Pattern’ at Grace Farms of Working Without Required Permits

Town officials are urging Grace Farms to secure permits for electrical and gas work already underway at its Lukes Wood Road campus—the most recent lapses in what amounts to a pattern for the organization since opening to the public last fall, according to those in charge of the New Canaan Building Department. Permits are needed for a propane tank and fuel line serving a generator that Grace is installing near an administrative building, as well as for an electric service change that already has been completed, New Canaan Chief Building Official Brian Platz said. Asked to put the non-permitted work into context—for example, whether the problems represent an isolated problem for Grace Farms, Platz said: “It absolutely is a pattern.”

Without securing a permit, Grace Farms did extensive work at a Lukes Wood Road house it had acquired, Platz said, installed a barbecue pit without a permit and opened facilities including a dining area without required Certificates of Occupancy. “They have demonstrated a disregard for any local authority, certainly with Planning & Zoning, Building and Health [Departments],” Platz said. Asked about the non-permitted work by NewCanaanite.com, Grace Farms officials spoke to a permit that the organization did obtain (last month, for a generator).

Officials: Activities at Grace Farms May Be Inconsistent with Town-Issued Permit

Through its diverse activities, Grace Farms may be running afoul of the specific terms and conditions that accompanied its hard-won approval from the town three years ago, officials said this week. Back in 2013, when the Planning & Zoning Commission approved an amended special permit for Grace Farms, town officials required additional plantings on the site due to discussion about “activities occurring at the site,” according to Town Planner Steve Kleppin. “We knew that Grace’s vision of the property was evolving,” Kleppin said Monday during a special meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, held at Town Hall. “We knew the kinds of things they wanted to do. While they’re all great, they may not necessarily be consistent with the terms and conditions of the special permit, and also with what the commission though they were approving back in 2013.”

The comments came as the ZBA took up a separate though related matter: A neighbor filed an appeal to Grace Farms’ Certificate of Occupancy, saying one condition tied to the organization’s zoning permit had not been met.

‘That Property Is Struggling’: P&Z Chairman Voices Support for Expanded Operations at Philip Johnson Glass House

The Philip Johnson Glass House not only anchors the important Modern architecture of New Canaan, the Ponus Ridge site also has caused the Planning & Zoning Commission fewer problems than have other institutions in residential zones, the group’s chairman said Tuesday night. The National Trust for Historic Preservation site is an “amazing” property and the organization that operates it has been “very, very well behaved” since opening to the public in 2007, John Goodwin said during P&Z’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “I’ve also been watching the management of the Glass House, and I know there’s a concern that this just is another director until the next director comes. But I would say that they finally have a business guy. My apologies to the architects, but sometimes it is good to have a business guy.