CHARLESTOWN — At the conclusion of a lengthy public hearing on Wednesday, the Planning Commission approved the preliminary plan for the expansion of Quonnie Farms.
Quonnie Partners LLC of Massachusetts, managed by Stephen Peet, operates a farm stand on an 8.3-acre property at the corner of Route 1 and West Beach Road. The property is in a residential zone that lies in a groundwater protection district. It is also in a flood zone.
Peet’s application for a major expansion of his operation was first presented to the commission during a pre-application proceeding on May 22.
The proposal calls for a 2,400-square-foot post and beam barn and 1,200 square feet of retail space. The barn would house a kitchen for the preparation of baked and canned goods that would be sold at the retail outlet.
The project, designed by local architect Megan Moynihan, would require clearing a section at the southern end of the site to grow fruit and vegetables. and reconfiguring the greenhouses.
A footpath that would traverse a wetland and connect the two sections of the property has already been approved by the state Coastal Resources Management Council.
Planning Commission members visited the site on Sept. 6 and requested a few changes to the plans.
Attorney Margaret Hogan, representing Quonnie Partners, called engineer Anthony Nenna to explain the commission’s proposed changes.
Nenna said the entrance to the establishment had been reconfigured in the plans. Instead of one road leading in and out of the property, there will be separate driveways.
“The entryway was about 24 feet wide,” he said. “Now, I have an exit and a separate entryway, both at 16 feet wide, so a dedicated entrance and a dedicated exit. I did consult with the fire marshal and he directed me to the 16-foot width each way.”
Signs will also be posted asking drivers heading toward Route 1 on West Beach Road to keep the entrance clear in order to avoid traffic congestion. In addition, a chain currently blocking the driveway when the farm stand is closed would be moved father back to allow space for drivers to turn around if they mistakenly turn in there.
Sherry Krupka, who chairs the commission, said she was satisfied with the entrance changes.
“I am pleased to see that you’ve made an entrance and an exit, making it a little bit better as far as traffic flow and possible backup of traffic,” she said.
Hogan called Moynihan to answer questions about the style and appearance of the retail space and the barn. Moynihan explained that the materials used on the exteriors of the buildings would fit in with the rural character the town wants to preserve.
“I believe that this design is compatible with the neighboring area,” she said.
Hogan asked Moynihan if she believed the design would protect the scenic qualities of Route 1.
“Yes I do,” Moynihan said. “I think it will be very attractive when seen from Route 1 and very characteristic of what people expect in a rural area.”
Commission member Sarah St. Laurent elicited applause from Peet’s supporters in the audience when she said she was pleased with the design.
“I like the design and I think that it has the potential of becoming a landmark building in the town,” she said.
Commission members wanted to know about the planned hours of operation. Peet said the business would be open seven days a week, 12 hours a day during the busy season but less in the fall. He said he planned to remain open until just after Christmas. He also plans to hire several full-time and part-time employees.
There were several questions about exterior lights, which, commissioner Ruth Platner told Moynihan, must be turned off a half hour after closing. Moynihan said that in addition to being dark sky compliant, the lights would be turned on around the exterior of the building solely for the safety of employees.
“They won’t necessarily be on all the time,” she said. “they will be as they need to be on for people who are working there to move around the building.”
In her summation, Hogan read excerpts from several letters written by residents who support the expansion.
"The words that you're hearing are the words of the people who live in this community," she said. "...They're telling you exactly why this application is something that the town should embrace and be proud of and support and approve tonight."