Prompted by more than two dozen concerned neighbors of the fledgling Mt. Philo Hops farm, the Charlotte Selectboard Monday will discuss what role the town may play in reviewing the project.
Selectboard Chairman Lane Morrison told more than a dozen audience members during last week’s board meeting that the panel received a letter signed by 29 neighbors who live on East Thompson’s Point Road, Palmer Lane, and Big Oak Lane, all in the vicinity of the planned hops project. The residents wrote to the Selectboard following an Aug. 3 Planning Commission meeting where they voiced their concerns.
Linda Samter, who has been vocal in her opposition to the farm, noted that the letter stemmed from “our concerns regarding the Mt. Philo Hops operation and health and safety concerns of residents surrounding the Mt. Philo Hops property,” she wrote in an email.
Selectboard member Frank Tenney said he is ready to listen to all parties regarding the farm. He said people attended last week’s meeting with concerns so the board will make time to discuss the issue at the Aug. 28 meeting. “We put them on the agenda. We’re going to take the letter and look at it and look at all the concerns they have and see what the town can and can’t do.”
Mt. Philo Hops is a new agricultural operation looking to grow hops for Vermont’s burgeoning craft-beer industry. Farm owner Peter Briggs has planned to plant the first crop next growing season on 30 to35 acres of his 58-acre parcel at the intersection of U.S. Route 7 and East Thompson’s Point Road. Hops are vine-line plants that need vertical support, growing upward along supports comparable to telephone poles in height. Many neighbors near the site have balked at the thought of filling a now-empty field with such a large mass of tall plants that will alter the character of the area, the views, and possibly more.
The residents’ letter to town officials says in part: “The Mt. Philo Hops property is surrounded and in close proximity to numerous residential properties, certified organic farms, children school bus stops, limited potable groundwater supply, scenic corridors, and wildlife habitat. While we support farming and agriculture in the town, we do not support this type of new commercial agricultural operation that will negatively impact existing sustainable organic farms and potentially harm Charlotte families and children. It is imperative that the Town of Charlotte engage in proactive land use planning at this time to ensure the best long term outcome and reduce the potential for future land use conflict.”
The document raises concerns about the lack of a detailed project site plan, pesticide use, water use, residential well use, impacts to scenic resources and areas of high public value, and water quality and aquifer impacts.
Samter said she has received “limited information” from farm manager Julian Post and Mt. Philo Hops owner Peter Briggs. “A vast majority of the neighbors have spoken with Mr. Briggs and Mr. Post about their concerns since neighbors took the first step to initiate the communications with Mt Philo Hops back in mid-July,” Samter noted. “The contacts from neighbors from July to now with Peter Briggs and Julian Post have been in person, by email, and by letter.”
Samter said she thinks Briggs and Post have supplied an insufficient amount of information such as a detailed site plan and pesticide-use plans. At a July 29 meeting with neighbors and via email people have asked the farm representatives for a dimensioned site plan showing pole layout, easement locations, zoning setbacks, well isolation distances, buffer zones, structure footprints in existing designated Vermont Land Trust building envelope, Samter said. She added that she has not received a site plan to date.
Post disputes Samter’s comments, noting he has documented contact his with her. He said that he and Briggs plan to attend Monday’s Selectboard meeting.
“Every concern they’ve brought up, we’ve taken seriously, and responded to in a respectful and thoughtful way,” Post said. “At the end of the day, all of the controversy is with people who live on this road.”
Because the hops farm qualifies as agricultural use, most of its permits are obtained through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. For example, Post said the project has applied to the agency for a variance regarding the setback of a temporary structure on the property.