Regulation of farmstands a growing concern for town

By Jay Braman Jr.
With only a handful of spectators present, as compared to previous pubic standoffs on the issue, Shandaken officials gathered last Tuesday to try and hash out what to do about the farmstand fracas that has plagued the community for several years.
It was surprising to see so few in attendance, given the fact that the stakes are high. Lawsuits are threatened. The fabric of the community might be stake. Friendships might end depending on the outcome.
Such is the backdrop against which the meeting played out, and while there was no definitive outcome it was at least clear that one was on the horizon. Unclear, however, is what that outcome will be.
After spending some time looking at existing law and proposed laws, mulling over every word and phrase, the group of planning board members and the town’s code enforcement officer turned to Ulster County Planner Dennis Doyle for some advice.
Doyle, who has come to town before to talk this issue over, let the group know that if there was consensus on what the town wanted, then a law could be written to allow it.
Everyone knows that the genesis for these discussions is the farmstand operated by the father and son team of Al and Alfie Higley on Route 28 in Mount Tremper. A highly successful and popular operation since its inception several years ago, the legality of the business has been in dispute, with the town believing it violates local law while the owners contend they are in good standing. Violations have been issued. Lawyers have been involved. Solutions have been considered.
Doyle jumped into the fray after planner Maureen Millar noted that allowing farmstands would be opening the floodgates.
“It is a new commercial use territory…for every district in town,” she warned.
But Doyle, a consensus builder if there ever was one, asked several questions about the issue to try and gauge what the town was looking for when it comes to whether to encourage or discourage farmstands.
“The general consensus is this is good for the community,” he said after the exercise.
As for the major concern that any new law would allow for farmstands to pop up all over the place, Doyle suggested that they could be allowed in all zoning districts, provided that they have road frontage along either a state or county roadway. This, he said, would keep the farmstands off the small, residential town roads and the neighborhoods they serve.
Another concern is that farmstands might expand. Doyle warned that agriculture is changing in Ulster County, and so the town should be careful about what it restricts.
Unlike the days gone by of large farms, Doyle said that “intense farming” on lots as small as two to four acres can provide enough income to sustain a family that operates it. Add in the potential for businesses such as cheese making, and you have a whole industry that may be in development.
“This might be something the town could encourage rather than discourage,” he said.
There were other issues discussed, like what goods a farmstand could sell or not sell, whether someone who stops at a farmstand is actually parking their car or only standing, etc., but Doyle kept bringing the group back to the main question that he raised at the beginning of the session.
“Is this beneficial to the community?” he asked.
In closing the meeting Stanley said that he felt the debate has narrowed in focus, and that the group is moving toward a decision.
“We’re not trying to push anything, but to move forward,” said Stanley.” Maybe another meeting in a month or so.”
He suggested that all involved go and talk to their constituents about the matter.