“Nightmare for Our Future” Cries Out Resident at Litchfield Planning Board Meeting

January 3, 2014
by Doug Robinson

“Nightmare for our future,” commented Litchfield resident Claudette Deroshire, as she participated in the Litchfield Planning Board’s public session of their December 17 meeting.

Deroshire’s comments concerned the proposed changes by the planning board, regarding the agriculture overlay district.  She, and as close to 20 others who attended the public meeting, referred to the proposed changes as “burdensome,” “maze of restrictions for use and non-use,” “incomprehensible,” and “unbelievable.”

According to the Litchfield Planning Board, “Over the past year, the Litchfield Planning Board has been working to understand Litchfield’s residents’ vision for the future of the community through a future land use mapping workshop, one-on-one conversations with local residents and business owners, and a community survey.  Based upon what residents stated, the board has been working to update regulations to balance future opportunities to protect the town’s agricultural character and allow for non-residential development in a way that blends with the community’s character.  Additionally, the Board has been working to update regulations and ordinances such as its bylaws and description of zoning boundaries – both last reviewed in 1989” writes Planning Board Chairman, Russell Blanchette.

At the December 17 planning board meeting, public hearings were conducted for amending and making changes to the planning board bylaws, agriculture overlay district, aquifer protection overlay district, commercial, transitional and commercial-industrial zoning ordinances, site plan review regulation amendments and multi-family residential overlay district.

The planning board proposal states “Agriculture Overlay District is a new Zoning Ordinance section designed to promote the preservation of existing agricultural land and character along Route 3A while maintaining the existing development rights of land owners.  The overlay applies to all parcels 10 acres or larger and allows any new development to be clustered onto smaller lots in exchange for permanently protecting quality agricultural land and keeping development back from Route 3A.  The overlay’s district boundaries are proposed to be all parcels west of Route 3A and existing agricultural lands east of Route 3A that are south of Robyn Avenue and north of Jamesway Drive excluding existing conservation lands and developed lots.”

Wilson Farm owner Donald Wilson referenced the Tuttle Farm in Dover, as an example of property devaluation by two-thirds as a result of government involvement, which imposed restrictions for land use on farm property.

In speaking of the Tuttle Farm, Wilson commented that it “is the oldest operating farm in America and it had 175 acres of very developable land.  It ran into hard times and was put up for sale for $3.5 million.  It sold for $1.1 million because of the restrictions.  It is harder to borrow money because of those restrictions.”

Claudette Deroshire, 158 Charles Bancroft Highway, owner of the Blueberry Farm stated that after having read the proposed changes that this was a “nightmare for the future.”  She continued that it was a “maze of restrictions of use and non-use, burdensome, unthinkable, to the townspeople and to those affected.  And that (we should) go back to where we came from.”

Both audience and planning board members agreed that the Litchfield farmers were “very good stewards of our farmland,” as commented by Litchfield resident Andy Coleman.

Rick Charbonneau, owner of 95 acres of Litchfield farmland stated for the majority, “Leave it up to us to what we do with our property.  We love our land.  I do not think anybody should tell me that we cannot develop.  If we wish to sell developing rights we should be able to do it.  This should not be held over our head.  We have done a very good job protecting the farm land.”

Charbonneau also commented that both the town and the state have done little to protect farmland, once the town or state purchased the land.  “The land across from the library used to be farmland … now cannot be … should leave it the way it is.  We like our land the way it is as much as other people in town like looking at it.  We are preserving our land and then to get this thrown at us.  We should stay the way it is.”

All those in attendance agreed that the proposed changes should not go on the upcoming ballot for public vote.  The planning board agreed stating, “We have more work to do before we do anything.  This is premature.  It needs a lot of work.”