WESTPORT — A farm's plan to become an event spot drew a crowd and debate about the nature of farming at a recent Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.
Sodom Road neighbors had a lengthy debate over Ryan Wagner’s Weatherlow Farms, which plans on becoming a wedding and event spot.
Wagner opened the property in 2014, as a cattle farm and later a flower sale operation. Some neighbors questioned if a nuisance could erupt if Wagner garners permission from the ZBA to host weddings and other events there at the site, while some neighbors and Westporters say it will improve the town.
Ralph Souza, the town Zoning Commissioner, ruled against the expansion, which triggered Wagner’s visit to the ZBA. The ZBA agreed to visit the site before continuing the hearing to its Oct. 4 meeting.
Wagner and his attorney Frank DeLuna told the ZBA at a Sept. 6 hearing that his business plans represent a growing branch of farming known as agritourism.
Wagner and DeLuna said the farm — slightly less than 200 acres, with half woodlands — is a state APR farm.
According to the state Executive Office of Environmental & Energy Affairs website, “the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program is a voluntary program which is intended to offer a non-development alternative to farmers and other owners of ‘prime’ and ‘state important’ agricultural land who are faced with a decision regarding future use and disposition of their farms.”
DeLuna said that because a large portion of the produce at the events would be from the farm, and that this expansion still qualifies. He said the use of the property for weddings and other events would still utilize the products grown and raised on the farm.
Wagner has cattle, sheep, goats, various birds and chickens, and now a flower business there.
He would need to meet with selectmen for a liquor license for the weddings. Wagner also said that he would like to host lectures and workshops.
Many neighbors chimed in; all concluding that Wagner has made great strides improving the property since 2014. Some mentioned the barn on site does not look like a traditional barn and is likely connected to his future plans.
Sue Medeiros-Sherman said the property belonged to her grandfather and was in her family for generations. She also took issue with the barn, saying that it “is not really a barn.”
“I am concerned it’s not following the guidelines of APR,” she said, adding that the new barn built violates an APR restriction.
Medeiros-Sherman said her late father, as well as others in her family, were “keepers of the land” and she hopes that farming there would keep that tradition alive.
Some asserted that activity there could lead to more traffic, drunken patrons, and parking issues.
Others applauded Wagner for looking to expand and bring in more tourism.
“I am a lover of the land. What he intends to do is not going to affect the land. It’s going to help Westport; it is going to bring tourism in,” said Sodom Road’s Carla Samson.
Agriculture Commission Chairman Ed Ferreira also applauded it and said that farmers today must use agritourism ideas to “get an edge.”
An article passed last year at Town Meeting to initiate a bylaw that would allow agritourism and agri-entertainment in town.