It’s early in the game to be sure, but on the face of it, a proposal to build a hydroponic facility in Pawcatuck would seem to have some merit and is worth consideration by the town’s land use boards.
The plan is for a commercial greenhouse that would grow food in mineral-rich water and then be processed and packaged on site. All vegetables would be grown inside, in up to 14 units based on the application filed by Walker Potts, who already has approvals for a similar facility in Old Lyme. He plans to sell his vegetables wholesale, which would keep traffic at the property to a minimum.
We are intimately familiar with the site. It is just about a stone’s throw away from our office in the Mechanic Street neighborhood. The land is adjacent to the Amtrak rail line and the Whistle Stop Pizza Restaurant on Palmer Street. Another developer had won approval for an 11-lot subdivision on the same site, just as the real estate market was crashing a few years ago.
With all due respect to our area builders, we can do without this particular 11-lot subdivision, given the glut of existing homes for sale here and throughout the region. And we always wondered how new homes might sell with the Acela trains as a neighbor. Soon after the subdivision was approved, the homes were advertised as “starting at just $325,000.” How times have changed.
The property under consideration comes under the commercial and industrial zone and is specifically zoned as DB-5, which, according to the zoning regulations is intended for “built-up area with public water and sanitary sewers in order to provide a mixture of commercial/residential urban density opportunities.”
Facilities allowed in this zone, either permitted outright or by special permit, run a huge gamut from office buildings, churches, wellness centers, and boat sales, to retail/wholesale buildings, restaurants, wineries, laundromats, recreational facilities and a host of other uses, including the “processing, bottling, conversion of agricultural products.”
The neighborhood doesn’t really need any more traffic, and some of the uses allowed by right or by special permit would bring a more intensive use of the site than a wholesale hydroponics facility. Another local restaurant would be nice, and so would a neighborhood winery.
We’ll take a hydroponics facility just based on its uniqueness, however, and in hopes that if approved at this level and successful, maybe the owner will seek permission to sell his produce at the retail level during limited hours.
Town Planner Keith Brynes counseled the Planning and Zoning Commission at its Oct. 1 meeting that it has to determine whether the proposal is allowed by special use permit because it is processing agricultural products, or if it is a pure agricultural use and therefore not allowed. Potts suggested his operation is much less intense than traditional farming and we agree.
One member of the commission suggested that his colleagues also consider whether the plan “fits in with the village district.”
The area is a hodgepodge of homes and commercial buildings bordered by railroad tracks and the mills along Mechanic Street. A village isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but adding a place to buy fresh produce would add to that feeling.