Washington's Five Senses Festival could continue, other events may not

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

WASHINGTON — While the town’s popular Five Senses Festival may now be able to continue, other proposed zoning changes to the Washington Zoning Regulations could still limit some town events, according to dozens of residents.

The proposed revisions were deliberated heavily at a two-hour Zoning Commission virtual meeting Monday night.

A large topic of discussion was the number of days a temporary event could be held in a residential area. After much deliberation, commission members made a change to the existing proposed revision, and decided temporary events could be allowed for seven days over a consecutive 10-day period.

That change could potentially enable the town’s Five Senses Festival to continue, since the festival could stretch over two weekends.

Another topic of discussion pertained to the proposed 10 p.m. end time of single-day events in residential zones. Some commission members said that time is unrealistic, and suggested extending it to midnight. They said it doesn’t get dark in the summer months until almost 9 p.m., and there can be cleanup from the events. Others, however, disagreed and said neighbors may think midnight is too late, and instead considered a 9 p.m. end time.

Commission members eventually decided to keep the 10 p.m. end time, and said if there’s a concern that the event, such as a concert, could run very late, residents could ask the town permission to hold it at town hall, a religious establishment or on school property.

However, the proposed zoning change that says no more than two, one-day special events per venue per year would be permitted, and a permit required, is still in effect. This stipulation takes into account such events as fundraisers, weddings, and art and culture performances held in a residential zone. Many venues in Washington, such as The Washington Club Golf Course and the Lake Waramaug Country Club, are located in residential zones, so they could be affected by these changes.

After the meeting, several residents expressed opposition to the revisions.

Washington First Selectman Jim Brinton said while he was encouraged to see commission members Dave Werkhoven and Ray Reich “making efforts to address the concerns of so many organization’s and residents,” he was very disappointed to see “(Chairman) Nick (Solley), Janet (Hill) and Debra (Radosevich) push forward with a regulation clearly targeting the Five Senses.”

Resident Steve Brighenti said the proposed revision should be “voted down for the sake of community and getting it right, with simple noise, hour and parking ordinances, rather than undermining our farms, land trusts, clubs, philanthropic homeowners, cultural performances and exhibits. This debate is for the future of our county, for our children and grandchildren and arts and culture and rural quality of life.”

Jennifer Averill, owner of Averill Farm apple orchard, said, “Once again, our plea for the members of the commission to consider that a farm needs to be able to expand upon what is thought of as traditional farming, has been brushed aside.”

“We have only been offered platitudes that they support farms in their agricultural endeavors,” Averill added. “This completely ignores the need for flexibility in the age of agritourism. These kind of events and uses are making farms relevant again, which allows us to maintain the open spaces so beloved in our town.”

The proposed zoning changes will be further discussed at the next Zoning Commission special meeting on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m., which will be held virtually. A vote may take place at that time.