Above: A sign declares the shuttered Hanover Farms farmstand "Closed By The Town Of Shandaken By Court Order." Photo by Julia Reischel.
Concerned residents crowded Shandaken Town Hall last Thursday night, lining the walls and spilling out into the hallway for a public hearing over the fate of Hanover Farms, a roadside farmstand on Route 28 in Mt. Tremper.
Hanover Farms is seeking several zoning variances from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. If the town approves the farmstand's plans, it may be the last chapter in a long battle between the town and the farmstand, which was shut down by a state Supreme Court order last November over its numerous violations of town zoning law.
In an application made recently to the zoning board, Hanover Farms is seeking to keep the farmstand closer to the street and lot lines than code allows for, and to occupy a larger space than permitted under a local farmstand law that was passed in 2012.
The town Zoning Board of Appeals will now have to decide whether to grant the variances. Once the Zoning Board's decision is made, Hanover Farms will have to submit a site plan to the town Planning Board for review, and the Planning Board will hold another public hearing on the plan. The variances and site plan must also be reviewed by the Ulster County Planning Board.
Even if the town approves all of the farmstand's plans, the process is likely to take some time, Shandaken Planning Board chair Don Brewer told the Watershed Post. Brewer estimates that it could be anywhere from late June to August before the farmstand can legally operate again. In the meantime, the farmstand is losing a valuable part of the season.
"[Farmstand owner Al Higley Sr.] has farmers who need to know, they either need to go somewhere else or sell their goods to Hanover Farms. These things need to be set up now, because it won't be long before the season's over," Brewer said. "Hanover Farms is losing quite a bit of money."
In a curious twist, Brewer, who is a local surveyor, will be drafting Hanover Farms' site plan to present to his own Planning Board. Brewer said he would recuse himself from voting on Hanover Farms' site plan, to prevent any conflict of interest from arising.
The farmstand has been operating on Route 28 for roughly a decade, but this is the first time Hanover Farms has ever submitted detailed plans to the town for review, Brewer said.
"For the first time, it was mapped to show where the farmstand was, exactly how many acres he had," Brewer said. "They never had a site plan like this."
"The epitome of a good neighbor"
At the hearing, Hanover Farms owner Al Higley Sr. sat along the side of the crowded room, greeting customers, supporters and friends with handshakes and smiles. Higley had posted a sign outside the stand urging residents to support the farmstand at the May 8 meeting.
Higley stood up before the floor was opened to public comments, thanking his supporters for attending and wishing them a Happy Mother’s Day.
The majority of speakers who signed the list spoke highly of Higley as a pillar of their community, citing the Hanover Farms farmstand as a fixture of their daily lives — a friendly, family-owned place to get affordable produce, even late at night.
Yu Kon, of Plank Road in Mt. Tremper, described Higley as “the epitome of a good neighbor.”
“That little corner store there is like a beacon, a landmark as far as I’m concerned,” Kon said. “I’m hoping this gets resolved so we can have this wonderful store back.”
Shea Settimi, of Plank Road in Mt. Tremper, also said she’d like to see a process in place to allow Higley to re-open the stand, “so people in the community do not have to make a 50-mile round trip to get fresh produce.”
Meg Ampel, of Chichester, said Hanover Farms also reflects a “sense of country community” that benefits the tourism in the area.
“I don’t think anything compares to their hospitality and courtesy to the people around here,” Ampel said. “I hope we can put aside our differences and recognize Al’s adds charm to our sometimes-charmless environment here, and we should really try and keep it.”
"No one is above those laws"
Although most speakers were supportive of the farmstand, a few speakers raised concerns over Hanover Farms' historical lack of regard for the town's zoning laws.
Tina Rice of Woodland Valley said that although she supports the farmstand, considering herself a loyal customer, the legal fallout between the stand and the town has been problematic.
“There are rules and regulations that every business in the town of Shandaken has to follow,” Rice said. “No one is above those laws.”
Rice said that although she is in support of Hanover Farms, residents should also remember the lawsuits “costing the taxpayers an excess of $70,000” began with Hanover Farms suing the town and “not vice versa.”
Kham Nguyen, a neighbor of the farmstand, also expressed concerns.
“In this town we have laws,” Nguyen said. “If we let the farm stands get away with it [the violations] , and someone else tries to do the same thing, how do we stop it?””
Nguyen said that he is in support of people opening businesses and making a living, but insists ”you have to do it according to the law.”
No resolution yet
Following the public comments, the Zoning Board of Appeals resumed their review of Hanover’s plans and requests for area variances.
At the hearing, Brewer, representing Hanover Farms, urged the board to work together to come to a quick decision to get the farm stand up and running while still in season, as “time is critical.”
Shandaken town attorney Larry Wolinsky said that no decision can be made until the Zoning Board of Appeals receives an advisory opinion from the Town Planning Board and the Ulster County Planning Board within a mandated 30-day window.
According to Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle, the County Planning Board reviewed Hanover Farms' application materials at their most recent meeting, on Wednesday, May 7.
Lissa Harris contributed to the reporting of this story.