He said he was not a reindeer hater, but he sure was displeased at the “carnival” Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses hosted around the holidays last year.
Mike McLaughlin who in 2014 paid $1,462,608 for property at 93 Birch Lane in 2014, which abuts Sam Bridge, said he wanted to enjoy his property and guard its value.
At the time, the issue was Sam Bridge’s reindeer festival which was a joint effort with TMK Sports & Entertainment. The festival was moved last year from eight year host McArdle’s on Arch Street, where parking had become a challenge.
Running from Thanksgiving to Christmas eve, the live reindeer and photos with Santa were joined by a train ride and carousel that were powered by a generator loud enough for Mr. McLaughlin to hear from Birch Lane.
Located at 437 North Street, Sam Bridge is in the RA1 zone and operates in the residential neighborhood under a special exception that dates back to 1956, when the ZBA approved them for commercial agricultural growing and sales.
Classified as a farmland as far as property taxes go, the operation enjoys low property taxes, but they are not supposed to engage in non-agricultural business or develop the property further.
Mr. Bridge told P&Z commissioners that the land at Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses has been in his mother’s family for over 300 years and that they offers free hayrides and a pumpkin patch every fall, both of which are open to the public.
“We’re trying to keep the thing going,” Bridge said. “Maybe we could put in low income housing, but we’re trying to keep the thing going.”
Love or hate reindeer, the debate over the festival brought to light a slew of other changes of use.
McLaughlin pointed out that Sam Bridge sells concrete and ceramic pottery, statuary and fountains, which he said are not permitted, and have expanded into landscape services, and run a landscaping supply operation that requires a fleet of large trucks and equipment.
“It’s an entirely new business,” McLaughlin said in November.
Since the debate over the reindeer festival, Mr. McLaughlin has not given up.
But neither has Sam Bridge.
On August 3, Sam Bridge launched a petition to overturn a cease and desist order from Greenwich’s Zoning Enforcement Officer for their landscape services. The goal is to amend the special exception for Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses to include landscaping.
In the petition, Sam Bridge says that as part of running a nursery, they offer landscape design, installation, and garden maintenance services, and describe those services as “an important aspect of selling the plants that we grow.”
In the petition, it is noted that Sam Bridge plants and maintains traffic islands, plants trees along public roads, grows and hangs town baskets on Greenwich Avenue and the Post Road, as well as work extensively with local community gardens, school groups, and non-profits.
They point out that they do not cut grass, blow leaves, snow plow, perform masonry, or install lighting and irrigation.
The plea for signatures hints that should the cease and desist not be overturned or have the special exception amended, that they might take the tough decision to subdivide the property into house lots.
“The nursery and greenhouse business is considered farming; we operate under the Right to Farm Law and our property is assessed as farmland (PA490). Our family would like to keep this property as farmland rather than subdividing into house lots.” – Sam Bridge petition
As of the morning of August 4, the petition garnered 952 signatures.