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Agreement near on Woodstock farm-to-table restaurant as town weighs rules to allow more

  • Neighbors of Peace Field Farm in Woodstock, Vt., seen on Friday, August 13, 2021, say the farm’s owner, John Holland, ignored the permitting process when building a barn-style restaurant on the property with intentions to run a 60-seat “farm to table” restaurant. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2022 9:39:19 PM
Modified: 6/30/2022 9:40:19 PM

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

The farm-to-fork food movement that is a growing attraction in Vermont’s travel economy is poised to get a boost in Woodstock, with an agreement reportedly in place to allow a long-gestating on-farm restaurant and the town weighing policies that would carve a path for similar businesses going forward.

Boston developer John Holland and Woodstock farmer and restaurateur Matt Lombard, whose proposed farm-to-table restaurant near the Pomfret town line has seen bitter opposition from neighbors, have “reached an agreement on the core dispute among us,” Pomfret Road resident Al Alessi announced during a Woodstock Selectboard meeting this week.

The agreement, which has yet to be signed, would limit the restaurant to operating four days a week and to close by 10 p.m. — down from the original six days and 11 p.m. closing — Holland said Thursday in an interview 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 on-farm restaurant, which has been in the works since 2016, could open by late summer.

The Natural Resource Board District 3 Environmental Commission last year rejected Act 250 approval for Peace Field Farm, on the grounds that 2,592-square-foot “barn style” restaurant — which had already been built at Holland’s 194-acre weekend retreat and farm on Pomfret Road — did not comport with the Woodstock town plan. Act 250 is a state land use law that aims to regulate development to ensure projects align with local and state standards and needs.

Holland appealed the commission’s decision to the state environmental court, which directed the parties to work out their differences through mediation.

Pitting those who want to maintain the town’s Vermont postcard rural character against others who favor building upon the Woodstock’s draw as a tourist destination, the debate over on-farm restaurants has divided residents and even led the chair of the Woodstock Planning Commission to quit in April, saying a petition to change zoning regulations to allow for on-farm restaurants undermined the commission’s earlier recommendation against the proposal.

Peace Field Farm’s proposal for a restaurant — technically a proposal for an “accessory on-farm business” as envisioned under the state’s Act 143 to help struggling farmers — and the proposal to amend the town’s zoning ordinance allowing farms to operate “on-farm restaurants” are not directly linked, but the latter has its roots in the former as towns were left to reconcile implementation of Act 143 with local zoning rules while passing Act 250 muster.

Woodstock interim zoning administrator Steven Bauer sought to draw the distinction between the two.

“An OFR is not an AOFB, if you just need more acronyms in your life,” Bauer said to the Selectboard, explaining how an on-farm restaurant is more narrow in scope than an accessory on-farm business, a term which encompasses, among other things, retail shops to help financially support farm operations that are excluded in the proposed OFR amendment.

Tasked by the Selectboard to help refine the zoning aspects of the on-farm restaurant concept, Bauer laid out details in the proposed amendment, noting that it stipulates restaurants would be able to operate only between 11:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. six days per week, they can’t exceed 2,800 square feet, would be limited to 60 seats, could not practice on-site retail and could only operate on farms at least 10 acres in size.

“The daily menu must feature products produced on-site,” Bauer said, who added that products along with the site plan must be approved by the Woodstock’s Development Review Board before the zoning office could issue a permit.

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

But one of them, Mary Margaret Sloan, while calling the proposal “interesting,” nonetheless said she “still (has) specific concerns that this does not protect the rural character of residential areas strongly enough” and that “should be the predominant 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 an opportunity to become a culinary destination.

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

Fultz said that there is currently no place in the state with a cluster of farm-to-table eateries, opening up a potential market for the town to corner.

“If you get ahead of the curve, you can own it,” Fultz said. “You can become the place when people talk about farmer’s tables, they talk about Woodstock.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.


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