Battle over noise at Polo Grounds gets personal
By Paul Palmer
FARMINGTON – The ongoing dispute between the owners of the Farmington Polo Grounds and its neighbors regarding a request to expand a special permit allowing more events took a nasty turn at the last Plan and Zoning Commission Meeting. Representatives of Town Farm Development, LLC are looking for modifications to an existing special permit that allowed a number of non-polo and non-equestrian events at the Town Farm Road site. Neighbors objected saying that the current level of noise from car shows, and polo matches is ruining their lives.
During public comment at the May 8 hearing, Kristy Sevag, who does public relations for the Club, was repeatedly interrupted by those in charge of the meeting when her comments strayed from the application to personal attacks on people that spoke out against the request.
“This is basically going to come down to social people versus anti-social people as we have seen here tonight,” she said. “We once wanted to play nice with the neighbors who are now calling us out and I have made the decision that it is now time to level up and do a little of that ourselves. I refuse to sit back and allow all of the embellished and stretched truths to ruin what we have built. It is beyond exaggerated and I am calling it out tonight.” Sevag then went on to denigrate the property of a neighbor who opposed the plan, calling his property “an eyesore of an unkempt garden laying on our property complete with a broken-down trailer and busted fence. I think they are growing dust and I hate to even insult the word by calling it a garden it looks dreadful.” She added that the child of the homeowner had called to tell the club to ignore her father’s complaints. At that point members of the audience – and even some members of the commission – raised complaints about the personal nature of the attacks.
Town Planner Shannon Rutherford, who was controlling the on-line comments, interrupted Sevag with a reminder.
“Excuse me, the comments need to be directed in respect to the application and the pros and cons of the application,” Rutherford said. “We are not going to tolerate comments regarding each of the individuals that have spoken. There have not been any comments made that are directed at any of the employees at the Polo Grounds. It’s about the application and the merits of the application.”
Sevag then went on to complain about someone she referred to as “ neighbor b,” someone else that had spoken in opposition. Once again Rutherford had to remind Sevag that she needed to stay on the application, and this time she went a step farther, taking it up with Town Farm Development’s David Falt who was attending in person.
“Mr. Falt I am assuming this person works for you and if you cannot figure out how to get this redirected then we will move onto the next comment,” she told him. Falt told Sevag to stick to the application.
When Sevag continued she spoke of the money that is raised by events at the Club and said, “The negative words are accomplishing nothing that I hear tonight. I absolutely refuse to allow the negative noise that the neighbors are creating tonight to stop all the good we do. It is unbelievably frustrating to be monitored in how we choose to spend millions of dollars on our property to make your property value higher. We definitely see when a home is listed for sale the first line is always overlooking the beautiful Farmington Polo Club…” and once she again had to be told that if she did not keep her comments on the merits of the application he microphone would be shut off.
Sevag concluded her remarks by saying, “Stifling us will only be another step toward unemployment and sadness for the community. From my heart, please allow us this season and future ones to change the very few minds that oppose us.”
The comments stood in contrast to those made by Falt and attorney Christian Hoheb, who have been representing the Club, and talked about respecting the concerns of the neighbors and wanting to find solutions that worked for both groups.
Farmington has granted the owners a series of special permits to allow for the activities since 2016. They are needed as the area is zoned for housing. In their latest proposal to the Town for the special application, they decided to move the start time of the Cars and Coffee events on Sunday mornings back to 830 a.m. from 8 a.m. Those events are a key sticking point as neighbors say the cars arrive early, revving engines as they arrive and depart. They had previously announced that they would be hiring 3 off-duty Farmington police officers to patrol along Town Farm and other nearby roads to enforce noise and traffic laws.
Under the existing permit, up to 12 non-polo/non equestrian events are allowed at the grounds each year; the majority are car shows. Hoheb explained that under the existing agreement, events could be multiple days, “The applicant has approval for 12 non polo/non equestrian events. 6 of those 12 can be 3-day events and if you add those up that amounts to 24 days of activity. The new version counts days (not events) and it maxed at 25 – so there’s only one more non polo event under that portion of the application.”
In addressing the concerns about prolonged, excessive noise from both polo matches and other events, the Polo Club said it has installed a new speaker and is putting in a monitoring system to ensure that it stays within the town regulations for decibels. “If windows rattle,“ said Falt, “ it is not from our events.” They added that the Town can select where they want the noise monitors placed along the edge of the Polo Grounds property.
For neighbors, the proposals still did not go far enough, many believing that they will continue to be prevented from enjoying the peace of their own homes and property, especially on the weekends. Anne Gerard lives near the location and said that the changes being offered will only result in increasing the wealth of the owners of the Polo Grounds. “I would never have bought near the Polo Grounds 15 years ago if I could have foreseen this.” Pierre Guertin who lives in nearby Devonwood said it is time the entire special permit process was reexamined. “They (Town Farm Development) have been driving this bus and the town has allowed them unfettered use,” he said. “It is not 15 or 20 minutes of noise; it is 4 hours of noise at these events.”
Several people were also on hand to express their support for the owners, though most spoke of the positive experiences they and their families have had boarding and riding their horses on the property. Jennifer Bennett, who also lives in Devonwood and boards a horse there, she said she has attended most of the events that are held on the grounds.
“I’ve been on a horse during the coffee and cars events and the cars are parked they are not driving around.” She added that her home is located near the Winding Trials Camp and she said there is a lot of noise from there, but no one complains. “They have sing-alongs, acoustic nights, and fireworks and I can hear all of that and it has not ben brought up here.” She said that the sounds from both are sounds of the summer and the community and that she enjoys being able to hear them.
Kathy Braga said she too is a boarding family at the Club and said she wanted to address concerns that were raised about how the noise could impact the equines. She said neither of their horses have ever shown any signs of being frightened or upset, and she added that for all the good the Club does, it’s a shame that neighbors are upset.
“It was there when you moved in and there have been things happening on the grounds for decades. I understand with technology it is probably louder there now, but they are working really hard to make it palatable for everyone and continuing to do all the good things they do.”
For many years before Town Farm Development purchased the property in 2015, it was in disrepair and polo matches and non-profit events like Coffee and Cars and others were not taking place.
Following several hours of comments and questions from the Commission members, the public hearing on Town Farm Development LLC’s application to modify the conditions of the approved special permit for event use at 152 Town Farm Road was closed. The Plan and Zoning Commission will begin discussions and possibly vote at its next meeting on May 22.
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Editor's Note: Additional details on both of these project votes will be included in our June 2 edition of The Valley Press. By Paul Palmer Staff Writer FARMINGTON – The Farmington Plan and Zoning Com