Little Compton farmers object to produce stand zoning change

Some say that the rule would hurt, not help, farmers

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/24/20

LITTLE COMPTON – Would increased regulation help or hurt agricultural operations in Little Compton? That was the question up for debate on Thursday, Sept. 10, when councilor Larry Anderson …

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Little Compton farmers object to produce stand zoning change

Some say that the rule would hurt, not help, farmers

Posted

LITTLE COMPTON – Would increased regulation help or hurt agricultural operations in Little Compton? That was the question up for debate on Thursday, Sept. 10, when councilor Larry Anderson presented his idea for a “Home Produce Stand” zoning ordinance amendment during their virtual meeting.

Over a year has passed since the Planning Board first presented their plans for a Farm Accessory Use ordinance to the council, with members working on an alternative proposal ever since. But progress had slowed in recent months, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With his time on the council nearing a close, Mr. Anderson wished to send a draft example of what the ordinance could look like, as “sort of a target for discussion.” “What I’m proposing is codifying that home produce stands are a permitted use,” he said.

The ordinance, Mr. Anderson said, would define these stands as removable or portable structures no larger than 150 square feet in floor area and no taller than 8 feet.

They would sell agricultural goods such as eggs and dairy, fruits and vegetables, flowers and honey, either produced on-site or by another Little Compton operation.

These stands, Mr. Anderson added, would be allowed as an accessory use to single-family residents in the Business B district, and would be exempt from the zoning front yard depth requirements so long as they did not interfere with traffic on any nearby streets.

While Mr. Anderson said that he, too, would patronize the town’s many roadside farm stands, adopting regulations such as this is in Little Compton’s best interest. The existing agricultural operations ordinance, he said, is broad; some of their standards, now over 20 years old, do not take into account developments in the Right to Farm Act.

“By our zoning, any property owner is a potential farmer,” he said. “There is a distinction, in my mind, between a home produce stand … and other kinds of farm retail operation.”

Although Mr. Anderson was only presenting his proposal informally – requiring no action from the council – several farmers took the opportunity that night to speak out about the suggested ordinance change.

As Rusty Cabot of White Rock Farm saw it, the additional regulations seem unnecessary; for Andrew Morley of Sweet and Salty Farm, the ordinance is a threat to the town’s rural character.

“The town of Little Compton is the special place that it is because of its agricultural past and present,” Mr. Morley said.

Right now, he said, people can drive around town and purchase “their next three meals” from these stands; some elderly residents depended on this income to help make a living. Although Mr. Morley said he understands the town was wary after everything that happened involving Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, he said these roadside stands are completely harmless.

“In this case, I do not think that the heights of umbrellas and the square footage of picnic tables full of squash and tomatoes pose any such risk to the town,” he said.

Councilor Gary Mataronas agreed with Mr. Morley, stating that the ordinance would be taking regulations a step too far.

“I think, in this situation, less is more,” Mr. Mataronas said.

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