Group that owns historical Stonington farm proposes floating zone to protect farmland

A group of about a dozen residents who have purchased the historic Stone Acres Farm on North Main Street would like the town to create a floating zone that would allow an expanded list of agricultural-related uses in an effort to preserve working farms.

Stone Acres LLC, whose members include Jane Meiser, the daughter of First Selectman Rob Simmons, is slated to hold an informal workshop with the Planning and Zoning Commission at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Mystic Middle School to outline its proposal for an agricultural heritage district and get input from the commission.

Stone Acres would not only need the commission to eventually approve the floating zone but also obtain master plan and site plan approval, all of which require public hearings.

In his letter to the commission requesting the workshop, Stone Acres attorney William Sweeney wrote that the new zone would “ensure the continuation of agricultural industry, preserve historic agricultural character, maintain long-term viability and sustainability of farmland by permitting flexible economic use, and limit the undesirable conversion of agricultural lands to residential tract development throughout the Town of Stonington.”

Sweeney said this week the new zone, which would be restricted to residentially zoned land, would create a tool to preserve the town’s historical farms.

He said some of the economic uses being contemplated are artisan food production such as cheese making, meats and butchering, baking and brewing using products produced on the farm. Other suggested uses may include farm-to-table operations, educational tours and some event use.

Sweeney said the farms here “are part of the cultural landscape of Stonington” and help the town keep its rural character.

He said the additional uses would help farms remain profitable.

“Just growing hay is not enough to pay the bills anymore,” he said.

Meiser, whose husband, Dan Meiser, owns the Oyster Club and Engine Room restaurants in Mystic, said the 63-acre farm along the east side of North Main Street just north of the intersection with Route 1 had been on the market for seven years after her grandmother died. Meiser’s parents, Rob and Heidi Simmons, own a small piece of farmland across the street, where they raise corn and sunflowers.

She said that recently a group of like-minded people who live in the community decided to buy the farm from her mother’s family. The $2.5 million purchase took place last November.
While Heidi Simmons is a member of the ownership group, Rob Simmons said Wednesday that he is not. He said he made the decision last fall that as a selectman, he did not feel he should be financially involved in the farm.

In addition, Simmons said that he has instructed Town Hall staff not to discuss any aspect of the project with him as those discussion should take place between the owners and town boards and commissions. He said he will not attend the meetings on the floating zone and if he is there on another matter and the topic of the floating zone comes up, he will leave the room.

“I do not want to be part of it and I won’t,” he said.

Meiser said the farm, which has 20 tillable acres, has been a working provision farm in her family since 1765. It was most recently a dairy farm into the 1980s.

Initially, she said plans are to have the farm continue operations, beginning a Community Supported Agriculture program, providing produce to restaurants such as her husband’s and running a farm stand. The floating zone would then allow the farm to expand its uses.

“We want to work with local artisans and use the products we make,” she said. “We have some phenomenal artisans around here and we want to promote that.”

She called Stone Acres an iconic and historic property. She said it served as a hospital and shelter for residents during the Battle of Stonington in 1814.

“This farm is a beautiful canvas with lots of opportunities. The first step is this workshop,” she said.

By Joe Wojtas, The Day staff writer

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