The owners of South Farms in Morris, CT have been hit with a cease and desist order from the Morris Planning and Zoning Commission in response to the farm’s ongoing socially-distanced Twilight Concerts series. The legal action will go into effect on February 1st, 2021.
Following complaints from local residents with regard to noise, lights, and traffic, the commission voted on Wednesday to issue the order. The date the legal mandate goes into effect coincides with the expiration of an executive order from Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont allowing the expansion of certain zoning restrictions in an effort to allow bars and restaurants to serve customers outside. Concerts and comedy shows scheduled through the fall will still be able to take place.
The center of the case revolves around zoning issues in the town of Morris, CT. Up until the pandemic, South Farms—owned by Ben Paletsky and passed down his family for generations—was a wedding venue and, according to the zoning commission, is therefore not able to take advantage of the zoning expansions to begin holding concerts. The Twilight Concerts series, organized by local promoters and venue owners Premiere Concerts/Manic Presents, has already hosted dozens of concerts and comedy shows bringing in sold-out crowds of 500 fans to the 150-acre farm.
While there are residents of the quiet, rural community who disapprove of the added stresses caused by the concerts, Commissioner David Wiig told the Hartford Courant that he’s received over 50 emails for and against the series, though most were supportive. Regardless of the community support for the economic boon to the town, Wiig says South Farms is conducting business in a way that goes against the order.
“We needed to put it on record and make it clear to the South Farms and to the neighbors that the board recognizes that this is not an acceptable use under normal zoning regulations,” Wiig said. “[South Farms] does have concerts, but [Paletsky’s] primary use, as he’s stated several times, is a wedding venue. Therefore, the music to me was accessory to that use, whereas now it’s become the primary use. Outdoor performances are not a permitted use in any zone in Morris.”
So far, the series of shows has created roughly 70 new jobs and provided an influx of new customers into local restaurants, lodging establishments, and other businesses. In addition, South Farms has received national attention for the innovative method of coping with the new reality thrust upon the live music industry.
“We’re working on things,” Paletsky said in an open letter to the town. “No one’s ever done this before, not just in Morris, Connecticut, but nationally. This is one of the few — if not only — places that are doing this. … There’s near-term things we can do and there’s long-term things we can do, but I’m pretty confident the long-term things will fully address any concerns. We’ve done a lot of due diligence before this happened. This was a fast project, but it was a thoughtful execution of it.”
Despite the redeeming economic factors, local residents still felt the adult language used by comedian Nikki Glaser as well as attendees shouting on normally quiet streets egregious enough to demand an end to the events. Though he did not attend the meeting on Wednesday, Paletsky stated he plans on “reviewing the content to see what happened and the tone and angle of things.”
“My understanding was that planning and zoning was trying to be a channel for people who were feeling impacted to discuss these items with me, and that’s fine,” Paletsky said. “I’m pretty easy to work with and pretty approachable on things.”
South Farms is still scheduled to host performances from G. Love & The Juice, The Allman Betts Band, Grace Potter, moe., Goose, and more through November 1st when the series wraps up with a final performance by Warren Haynes.
[H/T Harford Courant]