Let Schartner Farms’ proposal go forward
Asa Davis has resided in Exeter since 1973.
There is a mixture of misinformation and wrong conclusions in Megan Cotter’s recent commentary (“Questions Arise About Schartner Farms Proposal,” May 27), designed to ignite emotions over a low priority issue. Fortunately, a few minutes with the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and DEM sites correct the record, including:
Schartner Farms is an ongoing business, it is not “old”. “Old” implies that he’s somehow gone, which insults the family and employees who keep him running every day.
It is a greenhouse. Plans approved by DEM are considered an “insignificant modification” with permit number 21-0045. It has glass solar panels, a concrete peripheral footing and a predominantly dirt floor. The height is 28 feet, not 35.
It is not about “manufacture”. You don’t “make” tomatoes, you grow them. We will see the plants growing through the glass. Growing indoors, or packing and shipping, does not turn farming into manufacturing. It’s called vertical integration, and it’s a traditional way of delivering more value to your customers.
The GIS shows that the Schartners own around 230 acres in total in Exeter, on a few different plots. This proposal covers 15% of their land, in accordance with the land use ratios in our zoning ordinances. The GIS shows that most of the “adjacent owners” are also Schartners – they will have no problem “protecting their rights”.
Calling this “point zoning” is grossly inaccurate. This proposal, as presented on June 7, contains no minimum area or greenhouse. Even proposed as Cotter describes, the GIS shows that 40 other properties would qualify. For an example of zoning, see the Revity proposal. It provides for 59 acres of potential signage, applies to a single property, and lifts the coverage restriction for that single plot to 50%. While I understand that he enjoys the support of the President of the Planning Council, he sets a dangerous precedent by putting all previous projects approved under a more restrictive cover at a disadvantage. Exeter doesn’t have to try to pick winners and losers in the market – the rules should be the same for everyone.
Now 10 years overdue for the update mandated by state law, Exeter’s comprehensive plan is legally obsolete. This is a major factor in the significant increase in lawsuits against Exeter, and the associated quadrupling of legal expenses over the past two years. The Schartner proposal does not change the overall plan, but the Revity proposal does.
Schartner’s proposal is located near the Queens River aquifer, providing drinking water to thousands of residents of Exeter and neighboring towns, and protected by a water table. Environmentally controlled agriculture sites report significantly lower pesticide and fertilizer use compared to conventional agriculture. This is a significant benefit for one of the cleanest watersheds in RI.
If you want to get upset, look a little further down Route 2. In September 2019, DEM cited the city for illegally driving equipment in the stream bed, cleaning up wetlands, and building permanent structures in the stream bed. recessed areas on the site of the DPW garage. These activities were authorized and directed by the director of the DPW, Stephen Mattscheck, as evidenced by the building permits with his signature.
The initial deadline to be set passed last year. Although the city has received an extension, it still does not have a DEM approved remediation plan, the risk of fines is increasing every day and the current deadline to fix everything is only 4 months. The contract issued to help solve this problem does not cover buildings, which are the most expensive problem. It is also not necessary to generate an estimate of the total cost, but independent engineering estimates place this amount between six and seven digits, excluding fines.
Tradition has its place, but not all farmers want to live and work Amish ways. The CEA makes sense. It reduces the greatest agricultural risks, crop damage and work interruptions due to bad weather. Over the decades, the Schartner family have proven to be honest, hardworking, good stewards of the land and responsible city dwellers. Farming is not easy, but it is the life they have chosen. That they modernize, that they cultivate, that they live their life. We have bigger issues to solve.