The Riverhead Town Board is scheduled to vote on a controversial plan next week that would fast track approvals for new farm stands.
The draft legislation has recently been updated and replaces the term “locally grown” with “regionally grown.”
The term “locally grown” is defined as produce grown in New York State or within a 250-mile radius of the farm stand.
“Using the term ‘locally grown’ to describe anything with 250 miles kind of defies common sense, so I suggested we change ‘locally grown’ to ‘regionally grown,'” said Richard Wines, a member of the town’s farmland preservation committee.
“They still have to produce 60 percent of their produce on their farm,” he added. “The major purpose of this is to make sure farm stands are run by people who are farmers.”
Neil Krupnick, a Democratic candidate for Town Council, said in an interview he believes the proposed law “sounds like it was rewritten by George Orwell.”
“How you can change the word from ‘local’ to ‘regional’ and think that satisfies all the problems in terms of defining what local is and what a local farm stand is, seems to be the epitome of absurdity,” he said.
Mr. Krupnick also said he believes the proposal will legitimize the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport, which the town has gone to court against and claims the business sells too much outside products, as well as the Grapes and Greens cider mill proposal on Sound Avenue, which has met with opposition from neighbors.
Many people have also spoken out against the proposal because it could possibly allow up to 97 more farm stands along Sound Avenue and Main Road.
Despite the criticisms, the legislation has support from the Long Island Farm Bureau and its local affairs committee, as well as of the town’s agriculture advisory and farmland preservation committees.
In a letter addressed to the Town Board, Rob Carpenter, the administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, wrote: “We believe it is a good start in addressing the needs of the farm community in helping to solve some ongoing issues and would appreciate the ability to make some adjustments after the new year as necessary.”
Councilman George Gabrielsen, himself a farmer, said in an interview that the farm stand proposal was initiated by local farmers and has been worked on over the last few years.
Mr. Gabrielsen said all farm stands will at some point need to purchase from outsiders to survive during times when local produce isn’t in season.
Supervisor Sean Walter said: “I can’t imagine the North Fork could even produce 50 percent of the pumpkins that people are putting in their trucks on Sound Avenue … The reality is, you’re never growing everything you need here.”
Farmers and town officials that worked on the proposed law have said they believe opponents don’t understand the legislation because it looks to reduce the amount of farm stands that could be established in town.
Under current law, farms stands located in the agricultural protection zone need to be on a farm that’s a minimum of seven acres. The proposed law seeks to eliminate that requirement, which led to criticism that it could cause a proliferation of new farm stands.
Deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti said in an interview Thursday that the seven-acre requirement is currently only in the agricultural protection zone and that there are several other zoning districts where farm stands are permitted that have no minimum property size requirements for farm stands.
Mr. Gabrielsen said all those smaller lots that are north of Sound Avenue and south of Main Road could theoretically build farm stands now but haven’t.
Ms. Prudenti said that smaller lots won’t automatically be allowed to have farm stands because the proposal requires they meet dimensional guidelines in the town code for minimum lot sizes. Those guidelines will also need to be added to the individual zones that allow farm stands, she added.
Currently, she said, the code would allow a property owner to have both a house and a small farm stand as principal uses with only a small farm or garden on the property.
The proposed changes would require that the farm be larger than the residence and that the lot exceed the minimum lot size required by its zoning district, Ms. Prudenti said. It also requires that the farmer qualify for a state agricultural assessment, which requires a lot under seven acres to generate at least $50,000 annual income from the farm.
The town’s master plan encourages farming, but the town’s zoning currently requires properties in the agricultural protection zone to have at least seven acres before they can have a farm stand, she said.
Dave McLaren, the chair of the town’s agriculture advisory committee, said: “We’ve communicated with as much of the farm community as possibly … I think we have legislation here that’s as good as we can get at this point. It’s not perfect, but it does cover most of the areas of concern within Riverhead Town in promoting farming as a way of life and a sustainable industry.”