Valley News – Close deal on Woodstock farm-to-table restaurant as city weighs rules to allow more

WOODSTOCK — The town may one day see fit to change its name to Foodstock.

The farm-to-fork food movement, which is increasingly attracting Vermont’s tourist economy, is set to get a boost in Woodstock, with a deal reportedly in place to allow a restaurant on the farm. long-gestation and the city weighing policies that would carve a path for similar ventures in the future.

Boston developer John Holland and Woodstock farmer and restaurateur Matt Lombard, whose farm-to-table restaurant project near the Pomfret town line has met with bitter opposition from neighbors, ” reached an agreement on the main dispute between us,” Pomfret Road resident Al Alessi announced at a Woodstock Selectboard meeting this week.

The agreement, which has not yet been signed, would limit the restaurant to operating four days a week and closing at 10 p.m. – compared to the original six days and closing at 11 p.m. – Holland said in an interview on Thursday. with the Valley News. The deal addresses neighbors’ concerns about noise, lighting and traffic generated by the 60-seat restaurant along the pastoral stretch of rural road, according to Alessi.

“We have an agreement, at least verbally,” Holland confirmed, adding that he hopes the restaurant on the farm, which has been under construction since 2016, could open by the end of the summer.

Last year, the Natural Resources Council’s District 3 Environmental Commission rejected Law 250 approval for Peace Field Farm, on the grounds that the 2,592-square-foot “barn-style” restaurant – which had previously been built at Holland’s 194-acre Weekend Retreat and Farm on Pomfret Road — did not conform to Woodstock’s town plan. Law 250 is a state land use law that aims to regulate development to ensure that projects meet local and national standards and needs.

Holland appealed the commission’s decision to the state environmental court, which ordered the parties to resolve their differences through mediation.

Pitting those who want to maintain the town’s postcard rural Vermont character against others who prefer to rely on Woodstock’s appeal as a tourist destination, the debate over farm restaurants has divided residents and even led the chairman of the Woodstock Planning Commission to resign in April. , saying a petition to change zoning bylaws to allow restaurants on the farm undermined the commission’s earlier recommendation against the proposal.

Peace Field Farm’s proposal for a restaurant — technically a “farm-incidental business” proposal as envisioned by state Law 143 to help struggling farmers — and the proposed ordinance change zoning plans allowing farms to operate “farm restaurants” are not directly related, but the latter has its roots in the former as cities have had to reconcile the implementation of Bill 143 with the local zoning rules while passing Law 250.

Acting Woodstock Zoning Administrator Steven Bauer sought to distinguish between the two.

“An OFR is not an AOFB, if you just need more acronyms in your life,” Bauer told Selectboard, explaining how a restaurant on the farm has a narrower scope than an ancillary business at the farm, a term that encompasses, among other things, retail stores to help financially support farms that are excluded from the proposed OFR amendment.

Tasked by the Selectboard to help refine the zoning aspects of the on-farm restaurant concept, Bauer outlined the details of the proposed amendment, noting that it states restaurants could only operate between 11:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. six days a week. , they cannot exceed 2,800 square feet, would be limited to 60 spaces, could not practice on-site retail and could only operate on farms of at least 10 acres.

“The daily menu must feature products made on site,” said Bauer, who added that the products as well as the site plan must be approved by Woodstock’s Development Review Board before the zoning office can issue a permit.

Although 5% of Woodstock voters signed the petition for the proposed zoning amendment to allow restaurants on the farm, less than a dozen people attended Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting in person and online.

But one, Mary Margaret Sloan, while calling the proposal ‘interesting’, nevertheless said she ‘still has specific concerns that it does not sufficiently protect the rural character residential areas” and that “should be the overriding consideration”. in development.

But Patrick Fultz, owner of the Sleep Woodstock motel on Route 4 between Woodstock and Bridgewater, said on-farm restaurants could play to the town’s strength in rural tourism and Woodstock has the opportunity to become a culinary destination. .

“The first thing everyone who comes to my hotel asks me is, ‘Where can I go for dinner? I would love to do a farm-to-table place,” he said.

Fultz said there is currently no room in the state with a cluster of farm-to-table restaurants, opening up a potential market for the city.

“If you get a head start, you can own it,” Fultz said. “You can become the place where people talk about Farmer’s Tables, they talk about Woodstock.”

Contact John Lippman at [email protected]

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