Petitions Circulate on Both Sides of Farming Debate
Neighbors post signs, signatures in favor and against the proposed farming ordinance.
As a subcommittee of the Chatham Township Committee drafts an ordinance to allow commercial farming in Chatham Township, residents have continued to express their stance on the issue through signs and petitions.
Tom and Debra Bucuk purchased a home at 461 Green Village Road in September 2010 from former Chatham Township Mayor Abby Fair, hoping to turn it into an organic farm. The produce from the farm they hope to sell at the Chatham Borough Farmers Market. Their neighbor, Daniel Miller, agreed to let them farm approximately 2 acres of his property for the same purpose.
Their neighbor across the street, Richard “Erich” Templin, of 480 Green Village Road, did not agree. He complained to the township that the Bucuks had violated Chatham Township ordinances by starting a commercial business in a property zoned residential.
The Bucuks began to plant about 1-acre of the property with tomatoes, potatoes and other produce. They were in the process of tilling approximately 2 acres of Miller’s property this spring when the Chatham Township Police came with a stop-work order.
Paper petitions on either side of the proposed ordinance have circulated throughout town. Both petitions include signatures from residents in Chatham Township and Green Village, particularly Green Village Road, Meyersville Road and Britten Road. Electronic versions have attracted signatures from throughout the state and country.
The hard-copy petition opposing the farming ordinance, circulated by Templin and filed with the Chatham Township Clerk, has 67 signatures, 20 of them from Green Village Road residents and 13 who reside between 450 and 500 Green Village Road.
As of Thursday, Templin’s online petition opposing the farming ordinance had 121 signatures. Only the 10 most recent signatures are visible on the site. The online petition supporting the ordinance has 355 signatures.
Celeste Fondaco circulated a paper petition favoring the farming ordinance. She provided Chatham Patch with a copy on Wednesday, July 13, when 178 signatures had been collected.
Of those signatures, 27 are from residents of Green Village Road and eight are from among the Bucuk’s immediate neighbors between 450 and 500 Green Village Road. Fondaco presented the petition at a June 24 meeting of the Chatham Township Committee.
“People were so excited to sign it,” said Fondaco, who grew up in Green Village. “They wanted to take it around themselves.”
Fondaco said she has seen some of the material circulated by those opposed to the ordinance, including a three-page letter bearing the names and address of Green Village residents Vincent and Thea Ziccolella.
“If I didn’t know anything about what the Bucuks are doing and I read this, I’d be scared, too,” she said.
The online petition favoring the farming ordinance shows the names and states of the signators, but not the town they live in. Thirty-one signators chose not to display their names.
Most of the signatures come from New Jersey, but there are also signatures from Taylor Stehlgens, of New York, Robert Krickus, of Virginia, Loretta and Peter Jadelis, of North Carolina (two different signatures), Sharon Kinney, of South Carolina, Laura Swenor, of Vermont, Suzanne Prudden, of Texas, and Erin Souders, of California.
Those who signed from Chatham include Jessica Romeo, Ann Stachenfeld, Carmen Polise, Marcy Wecker, Abigail Maddi and Joe Basralian, chairman of the Chatham Township Open Space Committee.
“I just think the best and most wonderful thing we can have in our town is fresh, locally-grown organic food,” Basralian said.
“It just makes our town that much more special.”
Tempin’s online petition shows the names and locations of the last 10 people to sign the petition. On Thursday, the last 10 signators listed on the site included: Jim Templin, of Gilbert, Ariz.; Arienne de Vassal, of Houston, Texas; Ryan Bradley, of Greenbelt, Md., Christian Rodriguez, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Diana Ferreira, of Paços de Ferreira, Portugal.
Templin declined to give Chatham Patch a copy of his petition or to release the names and locations of those who signed the online petition. A copy of the paper petition was obtained from the Chatham Township Clerk through an Open Public Records Act request.
A portion of the petition letter from the online version opposing the farming reads:
“We wish to maintain the integrity and beauty of our community by protecting our residential areas from this commercial intrusion. Farming is an environmentally unfriendly use of the land, lowers property values, and is harmful to both public safety and public health. We denounce this commercialization of our community believing that its only goal is to put profits over people.”
Shirley and Jim Honickel, of 472 Green Village Road, live across the street from Daniel and Carol Ann Miller. They both signed the petition opposing the farming ordinance. A lifelong resident of Green Village, Shirley Honickel does not think commercial farming maintains the character and history of the area.
“I remember when everybody had a garden, goats, chickens,” she said.”We all had the Victory Gardens during World War II.
“But my father was an electrician. My grandfather had a little store. If that’s what they call farming, I have to dispute that. I really do,” Honickel said.
The land on Gary Willshaw’s Green Village Road property features profile cut-outs as lawn decorations. A herd of profile sheep graze his backyard and a smiling Loch Ness Monster swims through the grassy hill of his front yard. Nearby, a woman with a straw hat and a red shirt sits with a fishing pole right next to the road.
When the farming ordinance turned controversial, Willshaw removed the fish which hung from the pole and instead put a sign from the end of the pole that reads, “Let the Veggies Grow.”
His next-door neighbor, Wanda Deter, who lives in the home previously owned by her grandfather, liked the sign so much she asked for one for her yard as well. Her family also dug out a sign they had given her years ago that reads “Old McDeter’s Farm,” a play on Old McDonald’s Farm. That sign, which sat undisplayed in the house for years, now hangs from a stand in the front yard.
Deter and Willshaw both signed the petition favoring the farming ordinance. “I think most of the people around here are for it,” Willshaw said.
Christopher Struening, who lives on Green Village Road, is not among those who support commercial farming.
“I do not want a commercial farm down the street,” said Struening, who works in code enforcement. “If you want to grow vegetables and have a ginormous farm at your place of residence, that’s fine. The problem I have is the zoning change they’re trying to seek.”
Basralian, however, does not see how commercial farming will pose a threat to the Green Village neighborhood.
“It’s like everybody having a garden, when you pick it and take it indoors and eat it right there,” Basralian said. “It’s the most delicious food you have all week. That’s what it would be like to have an organic farm right here in Chatham.”
But Templin and many of his neighbors remain firmly against the idea and feel their argument has fallen on deaf ears.
“[Almost] everybody on this block signed [the anti-farming] petition,” Templin said. “Neighbors are complaining, but nobody’s listening. … It’s a shame, what they’re doing.”
Others, however, argue that farming adds character to the community.
“Organic farmers make good neighbors,” Basralian said. “Their farms are good for our environment [and …] don’t pollute our water supplies.”
“It’s been said that a small farm in Green Village would alter the pastoral feeling of Green Village,” Basralian said. “But the whole reason that Green Village has been pastoral for hundreds of years is farming. The best way to keep Green Village pastoral and beautiful is to allow some small scale farming.”
“I think any opposition to this is based on wrong assumptions. It’s just crops, it’s not even a farm stand,” Basralian said.
Struening said he is not comfortable with an ordinance that would allow his neighbors to use the land without any control.
“The [ordinance] takes every right away from the town and gives it to the state farming board,” he said. “The state farming board would only exist if there [are] farms, so you can tell my opinion of what side they’d come down on.”
Struening said he thinks the consequences of allowing the farming are greater than what the committee perceives.
“The town will start losing out on their tax base, the houses will decline in property value. … Taxes, financial consequences, traffic, property value. None of this has been done to my knowledge, and if it has, it hasn’t been openly discussed.”
“People who are opposed to [the farming] don’t seem to talk about the long list of benefits,” Basralian said. “To have a family farm in such a densely populated town just makes our town more distinctive and a more valuable place to live.”
According to Fondaco, the Bucuks’ operation that includes two separate parcels of land amounting to about 3 acres will be too small to use any large or dangerous equipment.
“There aren’t going to be any crop dusters or day laborers, and they’re going to adhere to anything the township says,” Fondaco said.
Fondaco does not see a difference between a large garden for personal use and using the same area to grow plants to sell at a farmers market.
“How do they know? What difference does it really make as long as they’re not making a nuisance of themselves? What do they think of The Farm up the street that got out of hand? That’s not going to happen here. …
“I just feel like [the letters that have been circulated are] misrepresenting what I believe this ordinance is going to be about,” Fondaco said.
Chatham Patch obtained a letter signed “Citizens to Save Green Village,” which has been circulated and encourages township residents to oppose the farming ordinance. It links to the Save Green Villagewebsite, and the text of the letter matches the text from the “Our Mission” page of the website.
“We believe that the [Chatham Township Committee] should not even bring this ordinance to a vote. If it does make its way to a vote, we request that our elected officials look closely at what they will unleash,” the letter reads in part.
It goes on to say:
“We don’t like to be forced to take a position against farming. We understand that food comes from farms and we support farming locally if the land use is in keeping with the local laws and zoning. We understand that local food can theoretically have a smaller carbon footprint, and keeps local money in local hands. …
“We don’t want to fall into the typical not in my back yard [sic] mentality, but this is not some cell phone tower, we already have one of those. This is an ordinance that can potentially dissolve our community.”
“It seems that most people that I know would love to see some small farming in the area. I just think that’s a nice, rural activity,” Fondaco said.
Both Willshaw and Deter received the three-page letter from the Ziccolellas, and other letters. Deter said one letter discussed how the farm would bring “the smell of manure and big farming equipment and tractors” to the area. ”
They’re not going to go that big scale,” Deter said. “They’re just going to grow a small bit and sell it at the market.
“I just think it’s a little bit ridiculous that they don’t want them to plant. It’s not going to be any high-tech thing.”
“I want the village to stay the way the village was,” Deter said.
Deter remembers that one of her neighbors, who moved from Chatham in 2009, had a vegetable stand on the side of the road that operated on the honor system.
“You took what you wanted, put your money in, got out your change,” she said. “He had beautiful vegetables and flowers and such there. It’s just the way it used to be. It’s sad that somebody’s trying to change it.”
Honickel said that even when every house in Green Village had a farm on its property, they were not for-profit. “These were gardens that people used to supplement their families,” Honickel said. “They didn’t sell what they grew.”
Thirteen people from the portion of Green Village Road near the Bucuks and Templin signed the petition opposing the farming ordinance.
“Erich, God bless him, he’s standing up for what he thinks the people here want. He loves Green Village and he loves living here. When this started, he said ‘No, you’re not going to do that to Green Village,'” Honickel said.
Like other residents opposed to the farming, Struening doesn’t think his concerns have been adequately addressed by the Chatham Township Committee.
“It’s clear that most people in the neighborhood don’t against it, and it’s clear that the town is looking only at the one side,” Struening said.
“To me, it all comes down to that word ‘commercial’ in a residential zone,” Shirley Honickel said. “This is residential area. Why should commercial businesses come into residential areas?”
In the end, though, “the ones who will lose out ultimately are the people who’ve bought into this street and into this neighborhood,” Struening said.
Honickel said she has received “rude” telephone calls from neighbors and residents—but not the Bucuks, she pointed out—over her stance on the farming issue.
“It’s hard to have people be so vindictive,” Honickel said. “This used to be a nice neighborhood. That’s where we came from.”
Thanks to the farming issue, Honickel said, “Those days are gone.”
Jim Honickel declined to be quoted for this article. Several other residents who signed the petition opposing the farming ordinance did not respond to requests for comment or declined to grant permission to use their names in this article. Several residents who signed the petition favoring the farming ordinance did not respond to requests for comments.
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