By Benjamin Joe
Wheatfield Gardens came under attack by several residential property owners in the Timberlakes Subdivision during a recent public hearing in the Town of Wheatfield.
Wheatfield Gardens, at 7241 Shawnee Road, grows industrial hemp – a process its neighbors say creates noise, odor, and inordinate amounts of light during all hours of the day and night.
“Wheatfield Gardens has become a private and public nuisance,” resident Kristine Bly read from a statement. “We are asking that the Town of Wheatfield help remedy the complaints.”
Bly said that, in order for Wheatfield Gardens to cease to be a nuisance, some steps are in order.
“Install carbon adsorption technology. They’re called in the industry ‘scrubbers.’ Require placement of carbon canisters before emission points,” Bly read. “Further, that those carbon units be replaced on a quarterly basis. We would ask that the town building inspector monitor a ‘no detectable odor at or beyond the Wheatfield Garden’s property line’ and periodically check it for compliance.”
Bly also asked for an 8-foot vinyl or wood privacy fence between the greenhouse and the residential properties, as well as for Wheatfield Gardens to install any kind of insulation or barrier necessary to reduce the noise level.
Bly said she believed the residents were protected by law from being compelled to deal with a nuisance such as Wheatfield Gardens. She quoted a local law that states, “agricultural operations conducted on farm, and that are consistent with good agricultural practices and established prior to surrounding nonagricultural uses, are presumed to be reasonable and do not constitute a nuisance unless the agricultural operation has a substantial adverse effect on the public health and safety.”
Bly went on to discuss whether a greenhouse could constitute an agricultural operation, whether the law that exempted agricultural operations from being nuisances applied to cannabis, and whether the law itself could be used as complete defense for an operation (such as Wheatfield Gardens) to use against a residential neighborhood (such as the Timberlakes Subdivision owners).
Bly continued to read, charging the grower with lying on his application for exemption of county, town and school property taxes by stating he’d grow a variety of crops, all of which, except a half-acre of lettuce, he does not grow. She also said residents have actually vomited because of the odor coming from the operation.
“What I will say to you tonight is that our attorneys, our code enforcement people, there’s many things we have to respond to,” Supervisor Don MacSwan said. “So, I would say tonight, rather than go into any discussion, that we will go through this with our Town Board and our attorneys and we will get back to you in a timely manner. … You may not be happy with some of them. There are a couple within here that I noticed are a little bit misconstrued, but we can give you an answer. … Give us some time and we’ll talk to you again and we can discuss what we come up with. … Matt (Brooks, town attorney), you’re going to have some homework.”
“We tried our best to interpret the laws of the town,” Bly said. “But we certainly understand that there may be gray areas or areas town law doesn’t cover. In that case, we would ask the town to consider legislative changes in the future.”
Paal Eflstrum, manager of Wheatfield Gardens, defended himself briefly at the meeting, as well.
“We want to be good neighbors there,” he said. “I think we’ve had the town code enforcement people over several times to monitor what we’re doing. We’ve taken several positive steps to improve our operation there.”
“Just to point out, we are a research partner with the New York State Department of Agricultural Markets for the study of industrial hemp and its possibility to revive farming in upstate New York.”
Eflstrum said addressing the charge of lying on his application, “We grow many crops there, not just hemp. We grow lettuce and herbs. … It is a research and development farm we’re using. Some of things put on the application change, because of market forces.”
Eflstrum said that, before Wheatfield Gardens, the property was in disrepair and a large retention pond was causing problems. His organization cleaned the property up and filled in the pond at its expense. He said students come to see the greenhouse as high-tech farming. The greenhouse supplies schools with vegetables from a local sources making those school eligible for funds even during winter when most food would have to be transported from distant farms. Wheatfield Gardens also employs local people, he said, and wants to employ more.
“We’d be willing to do what the code wants us to do, but I believe we’re in compliance,” Eflstrum said.
In Other News
Highway Superintendent Paul Seigmann warned the icing events would probably continue throughout the winter and such events use a lot of salt. He also wanted residents to know that trash should not be in the road, but on the curb.
“Garbage cans belong in your yard, not on the road,” Seigmann said. “In the summer, there isn’t an issue, but in the winter we have to plow those roads.”
He also noted vehicles parked in the street would now be ticketed.