A Mr. Michael McLaughlin, of Birch Lane, is objecting to plans at Sam Bridge Nursery to hold a month-log Santa's Reindeer Festival on the nursery grounds, replete with carnival rides. Sam's a friend of mine, and one of the nicest people in town (and the nursery is one of the best in all our surrounding towns), but I get McLaughlin's point: the nursery is supposed to be a farm, not an amusement park, and zoning rules would appear to block this kind of activity.
McLaughlin said he wanted to avoid becoming “a reindeer hater,” but that he objected to the festival because he felt it violated at least 8 zoning regulations.
McLaughlin ... said ... that TMK in the letter said they expect about 1,800 people over the four week festival. The letter also said they will also be selling tickets for amusement rides and operating a generator six days a week. In the application, they requested permission to operate seven days a week but were denied by ZBA.
[McLaughlin] ... said the Reindeer festival is 4+ weeks long, operated on a property with a special exception and is overwhelmingly a for-profit, commercial event, and his opinion represents at least 8 violations.
As for the generator that powers the two amusement rides, McLaughlin said he could hear the generator noise himself the day after thanksgiving and Saturday.
Mr. Maitland and Mrs. Alban said that any noise from the generator exceeding the town health code would have to be addressed with the town health department.
Mrs. DeLuca and Mr. Maitland said Mr. McLaughlin should take his complaints to the ZBA, though he said he already had.
“If it’s an ongoing issue with you, that is who would address that. It’s not us,” Mrs. Alban said. “That part, what they’re doing with the original use, and if it has been changed from the special exception, that’s where you should return (to Zoning Board of Appeals).”
Of course, there's this, which McLaughlin and his Birch Lane neighbors probably should consider:
Mr. Bridge approached the planning and zoning commission. ... He said ... that the land at Sam Bridge Nursery has been in the family for over 300 years.
“We’re trying to keep the thing going,” he said. “Maybe we could put in low income housing, but we’re trying to keep the thing going.”
Sam's right: the land has been in the family for 300 years (his grandfather was browbeaten by his priest into donating a huge swath of the property to the church for a burial ground - bad deal, unless he really was rewarded in Heaven, as promised). And it's always struck me as unfair that, in 1956, the town prohibited the nursery from opening on Sundays, a prohibition that was recently upheld by the P&Z. The revenue loss of 1/2 the weekend for sales to Greenwich homeowners must be substantial, yet the nursery persists; if it can't, McLaughlin may find that he likes whatever happens on the 19 acres next to him far more objectionable than reindeer dung dust settling over his chimney for a few weeks this fall.
But again: I sympathize with McLaughlin. His plight reminds me of the very first case I had when I began practicing law in Bangor, Maine. My bosses tasked me with representing a very nice little old lady, a neighbor of a town park in Old Town, who was objecting to a proposal by the Knights of Columbus to erect lighting on the ball field so that the Little League could play night games. Off I went, a flatlander from "the big City" - two strikes against me already - to Catholic Old Town, to fight the Catholic Knights of Columbus and little kids who just wanted to play that quintessential american sport, baseball.
I received a frosty reception from the local zoning board, and was clearly on my way to defeat when I used the weapon very large firms can wield: In the event the board did decide to grant a variance, I said, I would like a transcript of its decision, including the specific findings of "economic hardship" they'd be relying on, as required by law, to justify their vote. In other words, I threatened to bury them under legal costs and reduce them and their fellow citizens to penniless beggars sheltering in cardboard boxes during the freezing days of January. The board called a recess to "consult with the town attorney" and returned to deny the Knight's request.
That "reach out and crush someone" approach worked very effectively in the small rural towns of Maine, with their limited budgets. It doesn't work so well here in Greenwich, where we have a budget large enough for us to basically say, "so go ahead, sue - what do we care?"
All that said, I wish Mr. McLaughlin well with his crusade against Santa, his reindeer and hundreds of little children all nestled, snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads. I'm not sure I want him to win, but I do understand his position.