The Friends of Ambler Farm have submitted an application to the Planning & Zoning Commission to amend its current special permit by increasing the types and numbers of events that can be held at the farm, among other changes. In this op-ed, we hear from Wilton’s First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice on why she supports this move. The public hearing about the change continues tonight, March 25, at 7:15 p.m. in the Town Hall Annex

The Town of Wilton owns Ambler Farm. The deed stipulates that the Town restores the buildings and property to allow for use by the community. The non-profit Friends of Ambler Farm (FoAF) was established to manage and oversee the restorations, fundraise and operate the property on behalf of the Town

During a meeting several months ago with representatives of FoAF, I was surprised to learn that–unlike the Garden Club, which manages Old Town Hall, and the Town, which manages Merwin Meadows–FoAF is not allowed to rent to residents. Ambler Farm, like Old Town Hall and Merwin Meadows, is located in an R-2 residential zone, but has unique restrictions.

More than 20 years ago, I rented Old Town Hall for my 40th birthday, but due to permit restrictions, no resident can currently rent Ambler for their birthday celebration as rentals are limited to non-profits only. This seemed inappropriate and unfortunate, especially since donations, town grants, farming revenue and programming revenues may not always be sufficient to cover the farm’s annual operating expenses and required set asides for capital repairs, such as roof replacements.

I supported FoAF seeking small changes to their special permit to ensure the fiscal health of the farm and reduce the risk of taxpayer subsidies in the future.

The most significant proposed changes to the permit are to:

  • Increase the number of annual evening social events permitted at the farm from 6 to 10 and increase the maximum number of participants from fewer than 100 to fewer than 120.
  • Allow private individuals or organizations, not just non-profits, to rent for social events.
  • Allow for unlimited evening meetings of non-profits with fewer than 30 participants.
  • Reduce the size of allowable daytime events. Currently an unlimited number of events with fewer than 200 participants can be held. The application seeks to reduce the unlimited events to only those with less than 50 participants and sets a maximum of only 30 daytime events with participants of between 50 and 120. 
  • Allow pigs to be retained by the Farm by including them as allowable livestock.

The proposed changes will not change the look or the feel of the farm, nor resident access. The changes do not impact current lighting, noise or parking restrictions nor start and stop times for any events. There are no new structures or any septic expansion.

Because the property is owned by the Town, my signature was required on the P&Z application, which was done after discussion at a public Board of Selectmen meeting.

I continue to be of the opinion that the changes do not significantly impact the intensity of the use of the property. The FoAF volunteers have responsibly overseen great investment in the Farm and developed the property into the Town treasure that it is today. There is no reason to think these volunteers will not continue to do so in the future.

I ask residents to consider FoAF’s request and determine whether these changes are appropriate. Before tonight’s meeting, please share your thoughts by emailing commissioners.