New market at Greig farm skirts zoning law

A new farmers’ market recently opened at Greig Farm has been told to cease-and-desist by order of the Town of Red Hook until it complies with local zoning law.

Norman Greig opened the “Hudson Valley Farmer’s Market,” named for its sponsor, Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest, in a former dairy barn on his property on Pitcher Lane on Dec. 1.

Following a neighbor’s complaint, the cease-and-desist letter was issued Dec. 21 after town officials said Greig failed to obtain planning board approval before opening the market and was in violation of the town zoning code.

Last week, Greig submitted his application for planners’ approval. But he has continued operating the market despite the order to close.

In an interview, Greig explained that he began the application process several months before the market was to open but withdrew his application because he wanted to “create a forum” to discuss what he considers unfair zoning.

“What upset me was, why would you not allow something that is clearly agricultural in the agricultural business district? It doesn’t make sense to me,” he told The Observer.

Town zoning does allow farmers’ markets in the agricultural business district, in which Greig Farm is located. And the original application Greig withdrew would have begun the approval process, which involves a special permit and a satisfactory site plan before any opening.

Greig presented his views on the zoning law to the town board at its Jan. 8 meeting. Supervisor Sue Crane noted that Greig had requested to be added to the agenda and that normally such a statement should be heard by the planning board. But, she added, “out of courtesy to you, I’d like to have everyone hear what you have to say.”

Greig explained his grievance by framing his situation within the overall picture of agriculture in Red Hook. “I’m here tonight to ask the town board for relief from what I feel is a mistake in the zoning code,” he said. He then described the zoning code as “undue regulation” that “interferes directly with our right to farm.”

Asked by Crane whether he wanted relief from the code for his farm only, Greig replied, “I’m not looking for anything special for my farm, I’m looking for farming in Red Hook to thrive.”

The Hudson Valley Farmer’s Market, which operates weekly, competes directly with the Red Hook Winter Market, which is open every other Saturday during the winter months, and the farmer’s market held in the village of Red Hook on summer Saturdays.

According to Robert McKeon, who volunteers his time to run the Red Hook Winter Market, a requirement for additional parking and other site plan issues had to be addressed before that market opened in December of 2008.

“We quickly discovered that it was something the community relished and enjoyed,” he told The Observer.

The farmers’ market held last year in the village of Red Hook also passed through the planning process and was approved in May 2012 for a June 2 opening. Asked about the fairness of one market skipping the permit process, McKeon said, “I would imagine it’s a matter of both principle and town law that everyone be asked to play by the same rules.”

Greig submitted his new permit application on Jan. 9. The next step will be to present the plans for the market to the planning board, followed by a public hearing at which neighbors and residents can express their views. Planning Board clerk Paula Schoonmaker confirmed that such issues usually take a minimum of two planning board meetings, which would mean the process could take about a month.

The cease-and-desist letter from zoning enforcement officer Bob Fennell indicates that Greig must suspend operation of the farmers’ market until a special permit has been issued and the site plan has been approved.

Red Hook zoning code states that once the letter is received, any violation of the code is subject to a fine of up to $350. A second offense could double the fine, to $700.

This is not the first issue Greig has raised with town zoning law. Last year, he applied for, and successfully received, approval of an existing airstrip on his property, although he expressed frustration with the year-long process that required FAA and state input.

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