WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A zoning amendment to help farms is still in flux after the Planning Board asked to add more regulations to it.
The proposal is broken into three town meeting articles that would allow farms to host weddings, celebrations and concerts as well as add exercise, yoga, art or crafts classes. The proposal is coming as a citizen's petition from Cricket Creek Farm. However, planners asked farm representatives on Tuesday to consider making the uses by special permit instead of by right so town officials have a stronger say over individual cases.
The proposal will not just apply to Cricket Creek Farm but all farms that are looking to make an extra buck in order to stay alive. Farm officials crafted the rules that will end concerts at 10 p.m. and limit them to 40 people, and end weddings by midnight. Yet, no provisions of noise levels, number of events or access are specifically included nor is the term celebrations defined.
On the suggestion of Zoning Board of Appeals member David Levine, the board asked the farm to consider adding those regulations and making the events on a special permit basis. Levine said the ZBA can authorize a multiple events for a number of years at once. The special permit will alleviate the farmer's fear of not knowing if they can or can not schedule an event in advance as well as give planners a chance to review how the changes are being utilized, planners said.
Sherwood Guernsey, a Cricket Creek trustee, said he had no problem with limiting the number of events but disagreed with going through a special permit process. Weddings are planned so far in advanced that it would hamper the farm's ability to book those events, he said.
"We could limit it... I know they're not going to do a lot," Guernsey said. "This is not going to be their central business."
Board members are in full support of the concept because they believe farms are an asset to the community. Member Christopher Winters added that maybe the planners should look at opening the regulations to all properties with more than 25 acres. Winters said it could help large property owners pay their taxes or companies to have additional resources. However, that idea did not get support from the board.
"We're not really in favor of having weddings; we're in favor of saving farms," Ann McCallum, board member, said.
While the supplemental income would help Cricket Creek, resident Robert Greenberg, who lives right next to the farm, opposed allowing any of the activities.
"We moved here to get away from what they are trying to do," Greenberg said. "It spoils what we cherish in South Williamstown."
'If we do one wedding and make $1,000 or $2,000, that's a lot of cheese we don't
have to sell.'
Greenberg said people can enjoy concerts at Tanglewood, art at Williams College and can get married at any of the various places in town. It is "unnecessary" to have those events there, he said.
Cricket Creek owner Topher Sabot said that the farm has just barely made it by financially in recent years and by doing just a few weddings during the year will help sustain the farm for generations. He also added that hosting events such as art classes and small concerts is exactly what the farm has always intended to do.
"If we do one wedding and make $1,000 or $2,000, that's a lot of cheese we don't have to sell," Sabot said. "Our goal with Cricket Creek is to a) protect the land and b) be a community resource."
While under no requirement to do so, Guernsey agreed to rework the proposal to accommodate the board's concerns. The Planning Board continued its public hearing on the proposal for two weeks. The Planning Board will only vote to recommend voters to approve the proposal or not.
A Planning Board-driven proposal to allow second dwelling units in some parts of town was also continued after residents expressed concern over allowing new construction.
Planners hope to allow people to turn garages or barns into apartments or second homes to increase density downtown and lower the town's housing affordability, both ideals set out in the town plan. The board's proposal will allow residents to turn garages or barn into small apartments or secondary homes for family members.
While new construction is limited to 900 square feet, residents feared that it would have harmful effects in neighborhoods. The intent of allowing new construction, according to board members, is to give residents options. If the property owner has a dilapidated barn he would like to use for a second dwelling, he should have the option to tear it down and rebuild instead of just renovating.
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Mr. Greenberg can't have his cake and eat it too. He moved here to live among farms and enjoy the open space owned and managed by others, yet he's clueless about what it takes to keep farms alive and is unwilling to make any sacrifices to support the life of the farm. Typical S. Williamstown hypocrisy.
This should never be a 'by right' option - special cases, with announcement to neighbors and objections heard could be allowed. Otherwise many farms in Williamstown is going to have parties that are out of control.
Cricket Creek may be honest operators, but this rule will apply to everyone and I'm not optimistic they will all be positive results.
Where was this support and forward thinking towards making farms sustainable when Green River Farms was in business... really people? Is this because the charge is now led by native South Williamstown residents? I'm all for the motion to allow farms to secure avenues for additional revenue, it's just a shame that this support didn't exist sooner.
They move here and live next to a farm "to get away" from things like weddings?!?!
Unless you are actually farming on the farm land next to Cricket Creek, you are just another yuppie who thinks that time can be frozen and that you somehow deserve a rural romantic farmscape lifestyle that never actually existed.
And if Ann McCallum wants to "save farms," she'll let them make money rather than protect the delicate sensibilities of the escapees from the urban hell holes who "cherish" the idea of a cow grazing, but would never ever tend the herd.
These folks in South Williamstown are something else.
Farms are terrific venues for events where people can gather to celebrate a special occasion and eat the local food. I support local by-laws that would set standards by which farms can choose to engage in these enterprises by right.
Mr. Greenberg elected to live here when Cricket Creek was a dairy farm owned by the Phelps. To speak out against a change in use is not hypocrisy. I have lived in the area fo over 40 years and agree with him on this issue. Giving farms permission by right to hold events is bad policy that has potential for big problems down the road. Maybe it feels good today, but what are the implications down the road? Remember the bluegrass festival at Noppit Hill in Lanesboro? Initially it seemed like a good way to save a dairy farm, but soon grew into something that was much bigger and not too well received, but the precedent had been set.
Think it through rather than make a hasty decision. And let's at least be honest about Cricket Creek - the initial investment in Tripod and subsequent buyout by Lycos is what allows them to survive; selling cheese is not what pays the bills and keeps the place open.
@wait a minute- Whether they moved to bucolic pastures in the 70's, 80's, 90, or last year, it does not matter. They moved to farm country and agritourism is what many New England Farms are doing to survive. Putting up a tent for a few Saturday afternoons is not the equivalent of holding a festival.
As for your not so subtle digs at the Sabots, shove off. They are doing 100x more than almost anybody to "save farms" as Ms. McCallum said. They are actually farming, which I'd bet you are not.
Disclaimer: I am not related to the Sabots or Cricket Creek. Those folks are far more polite than I will ever be with the likes of feel-good types who think that going to a Berkshire Grown cocktail party absolves them of their rural obligations.
Why are rural neighbors allowed to control the events at their neighbor's yard when in-town neighbors do not? If events need permission, wedding or otherwise, how does the college get by with DJ'd parties all year? What about football games and their loudspeakers?
I hate to sound like Rodney King but why can't we all just act civally to one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt. If parties get out of hand, as deemed by the police, then they should get warned twice and then disbanded.
If Cricket Creek checks off the catering box on their health department certification and doesn't cause conjestion and noise issues, they should be able to do what they want without permission.
Over-regulation discourages businesses and we can't base an economy on non-profits alone. If residents stop crossing the town line to get food thereby sending food selling profits to Europe (Ahold/Stop & Shop) and instead start supporting Williamstown food options like Cricket Creek, the local economy will improve.
My point was missed. First off, I was simply stating that for someone who elected to live near a farm, which was functioning as a farm, to speak out about a change of use is not being hypocritical. Second, when Robbie Steele did the first blue grass festival at Noppit Hill it was billed as a one time event to help save the farm. It grew well beyond that.
@Live and Let Live...AMEN! This town has gotten too out of control with the regulations. One can't pass gas without permission in Williamstown. How is leasing one's farm for a wedding or special tented event any different than any suburban special event? And if the Sabot's want to have events in their barn, how in the world is that affecting their neighbors? Why do they have to get permission to have a class in their barn?! Ludicrous! I hope all those in favor of the bylaw change show up at the Town Meeting and vote the change in. Williamstown residents have to speak up and not let the town become a totalitarian place.
Wow, I hadn't thought about the Noppet Hill festival in a long time. What a wonderful event that was. Some of my last and best memories of my grandfather were at the Noppet Hill bluegrass festival; he was well known among many of the performers and I got to meet a lot of them because of this. I wish it was still happening, along with the mountain bike festival that they held in later years.
Cricket Creek Farm has been there for generations. They should as in any other farm here in town be allowed to do whatever it takes to make a living. Mr. Greenberg, I will send you the name of a few realtors who would love to sell your home and you can move elsewhere.
Noppet Hill was a wonderful event ! Now for bluegrass, which are mellow events attended by mostly older foks, we have to go to Vermont or NY. Where would you like our money? In MA or elsewhere. Relocated people think they can come and make it difficult for everyone else to make a living in a difficult economy. We're not all rich and do need to make money-if a farm can have a little extra-good for them.
It is wonderful that the farms are branching out with weddings, classes, etc. Was so pleased to see the store, petting barn, pony rides, buggy rides, playground at Green River Farm....wonderful rural fun and a great addition to the area. Was saddened to see it all disappear. Farms need extras to survive and we all need the farms to survive! Don't forget the farmers are giving up their own peace and privacy to do these things but they are necessary!
I really don't see why there have to be any rules. If things do get out of hand then there would be warnings and (hopefully not) shot downs if land owners were not able to keep control. I expect such would be really rare.
Limiting attendees at a concert to 40 attendees would make it smaller than many house concerts I have attended. This seems like it is not a right being granted, but a restriction.
I agree. Williamstown board members create regulations and problems out of boredom. These things pass Town meeting without many really knowing what they are voting for, or conversely a flash mob show up to defeat something they don't really understand. Consolidate boards. We have sign regulations but they aren't always enforced: example political signs sitting on lawns during the last 4 years.
Where in the zoning bylaws does it state a farmer cannot have non farming events on their farm? 40 is right. The planning board just wants to create more restrictions. This shouldn't even have to be a bylaw change in the first place, because we are a free country, not a totalitarian government. This should be a NON ISSUE.