August 17, 2017

Farmers to appeal goat yoga ban amid threats from neighbor

Tracy Longoria, a co-owner of Aussakita Acres Farm in Manchester, says she will not be intimidated by threats she received from a neighbor and local official who said they would use their authority to obstruct her appeal of a zoning decision banning her farm's goat yoga.

Longoria, who owns the farm with D.J. Lupacchino, says they received a call last week from Marc Connors, a neighbor who serves on the Conservation Commission, warning that if they appealed the town's ban on goat yoga at the farm, he would use his connections to guarantee that their appeal would not get the necessary votes.

Connors threatened to file additional complaints against the Lydall Street farm and "unleash Pandora's box on the farm," if they filed an appeal, Longoria says.

She says Connors is a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the board that will hear the farm's appeal on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Center.

Connors could not be reached for comment.

On July 31 the farm's owners received a cease-and-desist letter from the zoning enforcement officer stating that goat yoga is a health and recreation activity, which is not permitted on farmland.

Town records show the zoning officer investigated the farm's use of goat yoga after Connors filed a complaint.

The owners argue that goat yoga is permitted as farming and agritourism, which the town's zoning regulations do not define.

After she filed an appeal last week, Longoria says, Connors filed several complaints. She doesn't know what they alleged but believes that the new complaints wrongly accuse the farm of hosting pig roasts and selling alcohol.

"We have never done any of that," Longoria says. "In my opinion, anybody who disrespects the town like that and uses their authority in an abusive manner to give people ultimatums — and fear — I don't think that person should be on any council in the town."

The owners last week again spoke with Mayor Jay Moran and Assistant Town Attorney Timothy O'Neil regarding Connors' threats. Longoria says they were assured the appeals board would not be compromised.

She says a special appeals committee was discussed, as the owners didn't initially feel "comfortable to use that appeal board."

However, the regular five-member appeals board will hear their case at a special meeting on Aug. 30, she says.

The farm has planned a rally before the meeting at 6:30 p.m. to show support for the farm's goat yoga classes that began about three months ago.

Longoria says she also started an online petition, which community members may sign to urge the appeals board that goat yoga should be classified as a farming activity and agritourism. The petition, located on the farm's Facebook page, has gotten more than 300 signatures so far.

Longoria says Moran and O'Neil have been "more than helpful" during this process, adding that the town is just doing its job under the zoning regulations in place.

Longoria says she trusts that the appeals board will make a fair and unbiased decision.

"I feel very confident that the members of the zoning board will do their best work," she says.

Under the appeal, Longoria says, the farm is allowed to resume goat yoga classes until the appeals board makes a decision at the special meeting. The farm will resume sessions on Sunday, Aug. 20, at 11: 30 a.m.

Participants must be at least 10 years old and classes are limited to 48 people. Admission is $25 per person.

After the class, visitors can tour the farm and purchase farm products.

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