01/01/14 5:00pm
01/01/2014 5:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

What is a farm stand? It’s such a simple question, yet one loaded with meaning and innuendo. After asking five people (including farmers) and getting five different answers, I thought it best to consult an authoritative source: Agriculture & Markets, the agency that regulates and protects the activities of farmers statewide. What I found was surprising.

A definition of “farm market” is easy to locate, and it’s just as easy to see it doesn’t apply to the business Save Main Road has been asked to comment on: The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market. A “farm market” in New York showcases and sells goods from two or more farmers. Such a market is also typically located on municipal land. When a dozen growers gather in the parking lot along the river downtown to sell their produce to the public, that’s a “farm market.” The Glass Greenhouse store, in our opinion, is not.

About “farm stands,” Ag & Markets has nothing to say. Literally. They have no rules and no policy that define or govern retail operations conducted by a single farm on its own land. When I spoke to an Ag & Markets official to confirm what their law seemed to indicate, she confirmed they defer to town code on this issue.

Riverhead code says little. A paragraph tucked into zoning law restricts farm retailing by what’s called merchandising area: at least 60 percent of the space must be devoted to selling goods grown on the farm where the stand is located. Save Main Road thinks neighboring Southold’s code, which goes into far greater detail on this point, has much to offer; we plan to work with Riverhead officials to improve our code.

Still, the letter and spirit of existing Riverhead farm stand code can be applied in this situation.

Two things concern us: what the law says and the intent of the owner.

THE LAW

Letters in our possession from Ag and Markets suggest Glass Greenhouse owners asked the agency to intercede with the town so they could bypass the site planning and permitting process. (We think that’s how the market got built.) While FOIL research is underway, it’s already clear Ag & Markets argued strongly that routine application of town rules and procedures would “unreasonably restrict the farm operation.” We take issue with this interpretation.

One reason we’re concerned is that Ag & Markets alternates between calling the new Glass Greenhouse operation a “farm stand” and a “farm market” in ways we think facile and inappropriate. The agency shouldn’t say it’s a “proposed farm market” when, by their own definition, it’s not. The requirement that produce from multiple New York farms be presented appears absolute. (Packaged Arizona tomatoes we saw on display don’t count, nor does other imported produce.) We haven’t heard Glass Greenhouse mention the involvement of any other farms.

Additionally, state law heavily emphasizes the public, not private, nature of these markets. An example is that Ag & Markets may provide technical assistance for developing and improving farmers’ markets only to public and private “agencies,” not to individual farmers.

Ag & Markets relied on the only definition of “farm market” in Riverhead town code 108-56, which deals with signs, despite the fact that the definition is “as used in this section,” meaning it applies only to signs.

We think Ag & Markets’ reasoning is similarly weak throughout the documents.

We’re much more disturbed that Ag & Markets failed even to mention the “60 percent rule.” That rule is the clearest statement of purpose in current Riverhead code as to what farm stands may sell, and it appears to have been wholly disregarded.

To apply the rule, look at the store’s “merchandising area” only. For discussion, disregard the entire bakery (which we think is inappropriate and not allowed in a farm stand, and which appears to comprise 20 percent or more of the structure). We believe even a casual observer would conclude the total amount of farm produce offered in the new Glass Greenhouse retail space falls far short of the 60 percent threshold.

OWNER’S INTENT

According to Ag & Markets, the Glass Greenhouse says they need the new facility to provide cooler space to market produce and additionally to sell fresh honey, eggs and free-range chickens. If that were all the new facility sold, there would be no issues.

Walking through as a consumer, I saw a gelato counter 12 feet long (all estimates by my eye), a cheese counter almost as big, 10 feet of candles, 20 feet of displayed bakery goods and rack after rack of manufactured foods and household items from a dozen or more states. My guess is that all actual produce displayed totaled well under 20 percent of the floor area (excluding bakery production).

The new “stand” is 4,500 square feet. We know a local farmer who raises 1,000 laying chickens and sells their eggs — together with other farm produce — in a farm stand of 150 square feet. We’d be surprised if there are enough chickens, eggs and honey in all of Riverhead to make a dent in a 4,500-square-foot farm stand.

Save Main Road doubts that a farm stand of this size, however attractive and well-built, can be profitable if 60 percent of its retail area displays the off-season greenhouse products, chickens, eggs and honey that Ag & Markets claims are the intended items for sale. That said, if and when the owner achieves that critical measure of content, it should be allowed to operate.

Today, it seems to us an ersatz market, a “farm stand” in name only. We don’t think an upscale deli belongs in the Rural Corridor, and we support the town in its opposition.

My favorite North Fork slogan is: “We have the right to remain rural.” Save Main Road is committed to helping farms and farmers, and we enthusiastically support “real” farm stands. This one doesn’t qualify.

Larry Simms owns a home in South Jamesport and is a director of savemainroad.org, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the character of the Main Road corridor and surrounding areas.

He also serves on the town’s Code Revision committee.

12/31/13 2:00pm
12/31/2013 2:00 PM

liveblog

The Riverhead Town Board voted to authorize legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse Farm Market at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, after holding off on such action at its prior meeting.

The town claims the new building, approximately 5,000-square feet large, is being operated in violation of the town code definition of a farm market, in that more than 40 percent of the items sold there are not grown locally.

Owner Walter Gabrielsen, reached afterward, declined to comment on the Town Board action.

The board vote was 3-1 with Councilman George Gabrielsen, Walter’s brother, absent. George Gabrielsen had previously said he planned to abstain on all votes involving his brother’s business anyway.

Councilman Jim Wooten cast the lone vote against authorizing state supreme court action. He has said he thinks the town can settle the matter out of court.

Supervisor Sean Walter and board members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio supported the action.

The supervisor has said the town took another business, A Taste of Country, to court on the same issue and prevailed, adding that it would be hypocritical for the town to enforce its code against one business and not another.

“If Mr. Gabrielsen wants to have 60 percent locally grown produce, I would support it 100 percent, but clearly when you walk into that building, that’s not what’s there,” Mr. Walter said two weeks ago.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Town Board voted 4-0 in favor of awarding a contract to Borrego Solar to lease space on the town landfill for a solar project, and 4-0 in favor of a resolution requesting proposals to build solar energy projects on other town parking lots.

Click below to read a recap from the board meeting.

December 31, 2013 – Agenda by Timesreview

December 31, 2013 – Packet by Timesreview

12/19/13 11:00am
12/19/2013 11:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport.

After preparing to move forward with a plan to sue the owners of a 5,000-square-foot farm market on Main Road in Jamesport for operating outside the law, Town Board members opted on Tuesday to sit tight on heading to court — at least for now.

During last Thursday’s public work session in Town Hall, a resolution to authorize legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse Farm Market was discussed and was expected to be approved Tuesday night.

But the resolution got tabled Tuesday by the three board members eligible to vote on it.

About a dozen supporters of the project came to speak against the lawsuit plans but couldn’t do so because Supervisor Sean Walter ended the meeting early due to icy road conditions and allowed no public comment.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The market's interior as it appeared in October.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The market’s interior as it appeared in October.

Mr. Walter said the measure had been tabled in part because those in attendance didn’t get to be heard.

But, after comparing the farm market to a King Kullen last Thursday — the two-story structure features a full kitchen, elevator, office space and high ceilings with exposed beams — Councilman Jim Wooten said on Tuesday, “I think it’s a bit heavy-handed at this point to go to court. I think it’s time for us to meet with [the owners] and with the Long Island Farm Bureau and work this out, instead of having one more legal action where we’re only going to come to some resolution that we were going to come to anyway through negotiations and cooperation.”

Walter and Edith Gabrielsen own the Jamesport building, and the Farm Market was granted a temporary two-month certificate of occupancy by Riverhead Town on Oct. 4, Supervisor Sean Walter said. The market opened on Oct. 11, though without town site plan approval. The town considered commencing legal action shortly after the temporary CO expired on Nov. 4.

Councilman George Gabrielsen — Walter’s brother — has abstained from any vote related to the property, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio has been away from Town Hall over the past week due to a family emergency. She was not at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Mr. Walter said he still supports heading to court in this case.

“I walked though the facility and my opinion is that it’s a very high-end, sort of chic grocery store,” Mr. Walter said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting. “If we were to allow this to happen, then you could do this any place in the Agricultural Protection Zone.”

However, the Farm Market’s location could prove tricky for the town if it attempts to shut the operation down through the courts.

While the entire parcel on which the Farm Market is located sits in the town’s Agricultural Protection Zone, the first 500 feet of the plot — and others in the area along Route 25 — are listed as Rural Corridor, a zone created to “allow a very limited range of roadside shops and services that are compatible with the agricultural and rural setting,” according to town code.

One of the accessory uses permitted in rural corridor zone is a farm stand. But in an accessory use in the agricultural protection zone, at least 60 percent of merchandise sold must be locally-grown — a standard Mr. Walter doubts the operation is meeting.

“If Mr. Gabrielsen wants to have 60 percent locally grown produce, I would support it 100 percent, but clearly when you walk into that building, that’s not what’s there,” he said. “If they had 20 percent locally grown produce, I would be surprised.”

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz offered no comment when asked if the owners of the Farm Market could have found a loophole in the town code — which doesn’t define uses of a farm market in the rural corridor zone — though Mr. Walter said “it doesn’t matter,” as the 60-40 requirement is also mandated under state Agriculture & Markets law.

The supervisor referred to a similar case in 2010, when the town took “A Taste of Country” on Sound Avenue to state Supreme Court for the same reasons and the courts backed the town. That business is now closed.

“If this is okay, then ‘A Taste of Country’ is okay,” Mr. Walter said. “And if ‘A Taste of Country’ is okay, then King Kullen, in theory, could put a supermarket in the agricultural protection zone and the town would have no recourse.”

Mr. Wooten said most of the time when the town takes a business to state Supreme Court, the dispute is resolved by an out-of-court settlement. While he preferred attempting to sit down with the Gabrielsens before litigating, he added that he reserves the right to go to court in the future.

“We can do that without the expense of court,” Mr. Wooten said.

For the time being, Councilman John Dunleavy agreed with Mr. Wooten.

“Sometimes you have to work with people,” Mr. Dunleavy said. He said Mr. Gabrielsen told him he has ordered products that can be grown locally and help meet the 60 percent threshold — but they won’t arrive until spring.

Walter Gabrielsen declined to comment Tuesday when given the chance by a reporter after the meeting. He also declined to speak with a reporter when the News-Review first broke news of the dispute at riverheadnewsreview.com on Thursday.

Mr. Walter said the state Agriculture and Markets Department wants the town to give the business time to meet the 60-40 threshold.

“They applied for this as a farm market, and they are clearly not a farm market,” Mr. Walter said. “They have a building permit. The building is stunning, the parking lot is fine, but why have laws if you don’t enforce them?”

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/17/13 6:50pm
12/17/2013 6:50 PM

liveblogThe Riverhead Town Board tabled a vote Tuesday night on taking legal action against the owners of Glass Greenhouse, a Jamesport nursery, over the business’s newly built, 5,000-square-foot Farm Market.

Even though members of the Gabrielsen family had attended the meeting to speak out, Supervisor Sean Walter said he suspended the public comment portion of the meeting because of the dangerous road conditions.

He said he and two other board members voted to table the resolution on Glass Greenhouse for the same reason.

Last week, he told the News-Review The Farm Market, which opened in October, is currently operating without a valid certificate of occupancy and outside of the town’s regulations for an agriculture operation.

Mr. Walter said Tuesday night that he still supports the legal action.

The News-Review’s Tim Gannon reported live from the meeting. Click below to see what else happened.

 

12/12/13 5:42pm
12/12/2013 5:42 PM


CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse opened its newly built farmers’ market without site plan approval from the Town, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Riverhead Town officials are considering taking legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse for illegally operating its newly built Farm Market, a 5,000-square foot, two-story building that features a full kitchen, office space, high ceilings with exposed beams, and an elevator.

A resolution discussed at Thursday’s town board work session, expected to be voted on next Tuesday, states that members have determined the property — located at 1350 Main Road in Jamesport — is in violation of various sections of the town and state code.

The Farm Market, which opened in October and held a grand opening two weeks ago, is currently operating with out a valid certificate of occupancy and outside of the town’s regulations for an agriculture operation, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“As much as some people want to believe it meets the town’s zoning, it doesn’t,” Mr. Walter said. “It doesn’t have site plan approval now and I don’t suspect it will get it, since it is not up to code.”

The Glass Greenhouse, which is owned and operated by Walter and Edith Gabrielsen, previously only sold plants and flowers. Three years ago they decided to expand to include a farmers market to sell a variety of fresh and prepackaged foods, manager Amanda Putnam told the Riverhead News-Review in October.

However, much of the products are shipped in from Vermont, Massachusetts and upstate New York, Ms. Putnam said. Moreover, less than 40 percent of the products are made using ingredients grown on site — a direct violation of town code, Mr. Walter said.

The decision to seek legal action against the Gabrielsens wasn’t done with haste, the supervisor said. Walter Gabrielsen’s brother, Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he has recused himself from the matter.

While the site plan has yet to be approved by the town or planning boards, the market was granted a temporary two-month-long certificate of occupancy on Oct. 4, Mr. Walter said.

Without site plan approval from the town, the market opened its doors after receiving a food-processing license from the state Agriculture & Markets Committee on Oct. 11.

Since, Mr. Walter said he has been attempting to contact both the Agriculture & Markets Committee and Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela to determine the town’s next course of action.

When the town’s temporary certificate of occupancy expired on Dec. 4, Mr. Walter said the town still didn’t have a clear plan on how to address the violations.

“It is really not agricultural production,” Councilman James Wooten said in a phone interview Thursday. “When you walk in there, you open your eyes and it’s like a King Kullen. That doesn’t quite make sense to me.”

This is not the first time the town has taken legal action against a business believed to be operating outside town code.

Similarly, in 2010, Riverhead Town took owners of the former A Taste of Country in Northville to court, claiming that its certificate of occupancy is for a farm stand, and that serving hot and cold food — which the business was doing at the time — was not permitted on the site.

Following a two-year court battle, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the town, according to an October 2012 Riverhead News-Review article.

To bring their operation into compliance, the owners are hoping to expand their business for a second time within the next six months, Mr. Wooten said Thursday. Discussions with the owners revealed the plan to create about 2,800 additional square feet in order to accommodate and sell more products being processed on site, Mr. Wooten said.

“For the most part we want to work with them,” Mr. Wooten said.  “We want to encourage agritourism, but it has to comply with our town code.”

Walter Gabrielsen declined to comment on the resolution.

“I can’t get involved with that,” he said Thursday.

The Town Board is expected to decide if it will take legal action during its next regular session on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.