Law would set expiration on Shandaken farm stand
By Jay Braman Jr.
Whoever said, “You can’t fight City Hall,” obviously never met Al Higley.
Higley and his son Alfie run a farm stand on Route 28 in Mount Tremper. After years of battling the Town of Shandaken and allegedly being in violation of zoning laws, Higley says he now faces another threat to his livelihood- a new law that regulates farm stands in a way that, according to Higley, would put him out of business.
With a pubic hearing looming on the new law, Higley last week launched a public relations campaign, distributing leaflets to every mailbox in town claiming persecution for political reasons and urging town residents to attend the March 16 session and stop the town board. Of course, everyone that shops at the stand was recruited as well, with Higley opening discussions with his catch phrase question “are you a friend of the stand?”
When the hearing began at town hall Monday night, it was standing room only, with dozens more milling about out in the hall and parking lot. Most were supporters of Higley, and one at a time they spoke of Higley’s virtue as a person and businessman, calling him “honest,” and “a fine citizen.”
Higley himself set the tone for the evening. Allowed to speak first, the charismatic Higley sauntered up to the microphone and, instead of speaking to the board about the proposed law, offered a pep talk directly to his supporters. With his back to the board, Higley told all that “the politicians aren’t on our side” and instructed them to let the board know they were displeased.
The crowd delivered.
Big Indian Resident Marty Gailes accused the Democratic majority of making the matter personal against “a perceived political enemy.” Others called the efforts to control farm stand growth “absurd,” noting that in these tough times business should be allowed to do whatever it takes to keep going.
Against a backdrop of rude catcalls and remarks from the pro Higley contingent, some spoke in favor of the law.
Peter DiModica, a former town supervisor, noted that the proposed law actually increases the size of Higley’s operation. Under current law Higley is allowed only 100 square feet. The new law allows 2,000 square feet.
DiModica also felt that Higley was exaggerating when claiming such a law would put him out of business.
Current Supervisor Peter DiSclafani explained that the proposed law is an attempt to update the current law, which is just not in step with things in the new millennium. The laws on the books now allow farmers to place a couple of picnic tables out by the road to sell the produce they grow. The new law, he said, recognizes the popularity and need for larger produce stands that sell more than just tomatoes and corn but all vegetables, fruits, herbs, fresh pressed ciders, homemade pies, homemade jams, homemade jellies, homemade preserves, homemade sauces, homemade pickles, homemade vinegars, milk, cream, butter, cheese, dried fruits, honey, nuts, maple syrup.
Among the chief complaints about the proposed law are that it limits what can be sold at the stand to only the above mentioned produce, it limits time of operation to daylight hours only and requires that all the lights be turned off after sunset.
Higley’s stand is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Maureen Millar, a Mount Tremper resident, member of the town planning board and longstanding critic of Higley’s operation, surprised all by saying that she did not support the law. But while most in the room opposed it because they view it as too restrictive, Millar opposed it because it isn’t restrictive enough.
“Everyone hates zoning laws,” she said. “Until their neighbor does something crazy.”
The town board is expected to make adjustments to the proposed law and reconsider the matter at its next meeting on April 6.