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Wilton

Residents air concerns over cafe’s  expansion, outdoor summer concerts

Hilltop owner says shows have become too much to manage, are unlikely continue

  • A crowd gathers around a recently constructed stage featuring the Doodads and Don'ts, on a Saturday evening of music at the Hilltop Cafe in Wilton.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    A crowd gathers around a recently constructed stage featuring the Doodads and Don'ts, on a Saturday evening of music at the Hilltop Cafe in Wilton.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Hilltop Cafe, located at the Four Corners Farm in Wilton, recently constructed an outdoor stage to hold live music events in the cafe’s own backyard.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Hilltop Cafe, located at the Four Corners Farm in Wilton, recently constructed an outdoor stage to hold live music events in the cafe’s own backyard.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • A crowd gathers around a recently constructed stage featuring the Doodads and Don'ts, on a Saturday evening of music at the Hilltop Cafe in Wilton.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Hilltop Cafe, located at the Four Corners Farm in Wilton, recently constructed an outdoor stage to hold live music events in the cafe’s own backyard.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

WILTON — The Hilltop Cafe has become a popular destination for those looking to taste some of the farm-fresh produce it serves or take in some of the local musicians the cafe hosts on its outdoor stage. But neighbors of the venture are concerned that what was originally presented as a small business with a low impact is growing beyond what the neighborhood can handle.

Neighbors of the cafe have expressed concerns about the disruption the commercial venture is having in the rural-agricultural zone. Traffic is a main concern, but residents also voiced complaints about summer concerts held at the site, and changes residents claim violate the original site plan.

In 2010, Lincoln Geiger of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm obtained a special exception to operate a cafe in the rural-agricultural zone, but the approval came with conditions. Among them were that seating at the cafe was limited to 14 seats, and the hours of operation were set at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Neighbors on Abbott Hill Road became concerned this year, when the cafe began to host outdoor concerts, and renovations were done to make the kitchen larger.

“I feel the cafe has moved beyond the spirit of approval and the conditions of the approval,” said Jim Fisher at Monday’s Select Board meeting. “To someone who moved to a farming community, the neighborhood is starting to be another business center.”

Laura Tires Gottstein, who also lives on Abbott Hill Road, agreed. “I think the farm is great,” she said. “And I love the area. But it’s not the same area as it was before the cafe. An agricultural farm is one thing, a concert venue and restaurant is another.” She added that she, too, thought the cafe had wandered outside the boundaries of its original approval. “Its operating hours are beyond what was approved, seating is beyond what was approved, the concerts advertised on the website encouraged people to bring alcohol to the events, which was not approved,” she said.

Select Board Chair Dan Donovan said some of the traffic generated by the farm is by people that visit the farm itself or are picking up their Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Those are permitted uses in the rural-agricultural zone, he said. It was the weekend outdoor music series and the site plan violations that caused him the most concern, he said. During one of the concerts, he said, there had been nearly 100 cars at the cafe, according to the police chief.

Geiger said he agreed with some of the comments by the public about the increased traffic and the concerns about the concerts. “I struggle with it myself,” he said. He added that the concerts had been an experiment this year, but the crowd it gathered was hard for the cafe to support, and it may not be a feasible venture. It’s unlikely they’ll continue to hold them next year, he said, at least in the same way they are doing now. “It’s too much to manage and too many people to serve,” he said.

Geiger added that some renovations had been done at the cafe to increase the size of the kitchen, but the seating inside of the cafe had not increased. There are an additional 20 seats outside, however, he said. Geiger noted he planned to meet with the Southwest Regional Planning Commission to submit a revised site plan to the Planning Board in November. At the same time, he plans to address a new parking plan, he said. The current one is too constricted and not practical, he said. He plans to move parking off Abbott Hill, behind the farm buildings.

Donovan asked if there are any music events planned between now and the Planning Board meeting. Geiger replied that the performances were only scheduled through the summer, and have been shut down for the winter.

Select Board member Bill Condra told Geiger that until the Planning Board meeting occurs, that the cafe should operate in the bounds of its original site plan, and defer any non-approved activities until the Planning Board had addressed his application.

Geiger said he hoped to work with his neighbors moving forward to come up with a solution they could all live with. While he, too, would like to see the neighborhood remain small and rural, the cafe does have to generate enough business to remain a successful venture, he said.

“I hope you can live with us, if maybe we can communicate a little more,” he said. “I was a little disappointed no one came to me directly with these concerns. I hope we can resolve this in a really human way.”

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