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Rhode Island Nurseries Plants Case for Roadway

Rhode Island Nurseries, a fourth generation family-operated farm, is shrouded in controversy over a dispute surrounding their proposed construction of a road.

Editor's note: The following is the first half of a two-part series looking at this controversial issue, which will go before the planning board on Sept. 16. Later this week, we will take a look at the other side, featuring an interview with the owners of the Glen Ridge Alpaca Farm.

With 500 acres of farmland around Middletown and Portsmouth, Rhode Island Nurseries has a considerable presence on Aquidneck Island. 

Established in 1895 by Vanceslaus A. Vanicek, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, the farm has enjoyed consistent expansion of about 100-150 acres per generation, recently adding vegetables to their crop of shrubs and plants, including one of the widest selling "yew' varietals which originated on the farm. 

Today, Rhode Island Nurseries is a wholesale grower supplying mostly "woody ornamentals," which are landscape-sized plant and shrub materials to retailers, landscapers and re-wholesalers. 

The farm also uses mules to cultivate their fields.  The mules, originally brought to the farm from Fort Adams in the 1920s, are "very versatile because they cultivate closer than a tractor can, they are more precise so it means less hand weeding," says Bruce Vanicek, the fourth-generation proprietor of the farm.

In the past year or so, Rhode Island Nurseries has been a topic of discussion around the community, but not because of their plants. 

Rhode Island Nurseries is subdividing and selling a piece of their land that is not suitable for farming; however, the subdivision is currently only accessible by one road, which means that an additional access point must be constructed.   

This is where the issue becomes emotionally charged, as the proposed emergency access road is a paper road that bisects the Glen Ridge Alpaca Farm, located off Glen Road on Frank Coelho Drive in Portsmouth.

The owners of Glen Ridge Farm, Kevin Tarsagian and Ann Fiore, argue that the construction of this road will disrupt the day-to-day operations of their farm so profoundly that the farm will no longer be viable.

The owners also cite the possibility of other options, which would leave their farm untouched, as a reason for appealing the proposed road. 

Vanicek and Rhode Island Nurseries argue that the proposed road is to be built on land that is not owned by Glen Ridge Farm; therefore, they do not technically have the rights to it. 

In addition, Vanicek doesn't believe that a gravel road, which is only to be used for emergency purposes, would make the farm not viable. 

"I was sympathetic to Kevin and Anne's issues … The bottom line is why can't they continue to farm with a gravel road?," he said.

Vanicek's petition to the town was initially denied, but this decision was over-turned after an appeal on his behalf. 

Once the planning board approved his petition, Tarsagian and Fiore made an appeal of their own, which is to be heard by the planning board on Sept. 16. They hope to demonstrate the detrimental effect the proposed road would have on their property, in addition to emphasizing the significance of their farm to the community and the importance of preserving historic places.  

Vanicek is fully prepared to appeal to a higher authority if the planning board takes away his approval, he says.

As the owner of a business that has been a mainstay to the island for four generations, Vanicek says he is especially distraught that this whole controversy has portrayed his business in a negative light.

He makes it clear that he does not want to be cast as "the big bad business," especially since the roots of his business run deep into the island's history. His great-grandfather started as a gardener for the now-famous estates of Newport.

Vanicek stresses that Glen Ridge Farm is, indeed, an asset to the community; however, Rhode Island Nurseries is the largest agricultural landowner around and he feels a bit taken for granted. 

"We are both assets," says Vanicek. "But, we're just trying to further our business, which is farming, and unless you can keep your farm viable, it will go away."

Gloria Schmidt September 05, 2010 at 03:41 PM
As a student of the history of the Glen area, I fully appreciate the heritage of Rhode Island Nurseries. The Vanicek nursery stock was part of the landscaping of the Glen Manor House in the 1920's and in the early 1900's they planted the Linden trees on what we now know as Linden Lane leading up to the Brown House. I can understand a farmer needing to develop part of their land, but I can't understand why that has to be done at the expense of another farmer. I continue to pray that the planning board will work out a just way to let the Vaniceks proceed without damaging or interfering with Glen Ridge Farm. Town planning rules should not be pitting farmers against each other. Farming is Portsmouth's heritage and we should encourage farmers who want to continue to farm their land.
Lori Stevens September 05, 2010 at 09:25 PM
Mr. Vanicek is concerned about his business being portrayed in a negative light??? Isn't that interesting? He has at least two other options for an additional access point without touching this "paper road", thought insists upon trying to destroy the farm. The only person causing negative light onto you Mr. Vanicek, is yourself. Use your other options and leave Glen Ridge Farm alone! Please remember that bad news travels quicker than good news. And the news that is circulating about Rhode Island Nurseries and the Vanicek family is certainly not flattering.
Bruce Vanicek September 06, 2010 at 01:49 PM
In response to Lori's comment, I am concerned Rhode Island Nurseries is being portrayed in a negative light because people like you continue to spread misinformation about the issues and options surrounding this situation. I would be more than glad to meet with you in person to explain the truth.
Paige Goulart September 06, 2010 at 02:53 PM
Glen Ridge Farm has vigilantly fought to “Preserve Glen Ridge Farm” Banning together with members of “Preserve Portsmouth”. They assimilate themselves with the Preserve Portsmouth Group. Yet, they campaign for themselves with the end result - a high cost to the people of Portsmouth. Facts to consider: 1. The Planning Board approved a gravel road with no vehicular traffic. 2. The owner of Glen Ridge Farm has known about the paper road since prior to purchasing the property. 3. The owner of Glen Ridge Farm has a sub-divided piece of property he can develop at any time yet receives the farm tax break and has saved himself more than $100,000.00 in taxes. 4. The owner of Glen Ridge Farm put a fence around his farm – not to keep alpacas in – but as a boundary. This closes off the publically held road. 5. The owner of Glen Ridge Farm has not paid taxes on the paper road, but uses it as his own. 6. Abandoning the road could cost tax payers in excess of $300,000.00. 7. Not abandoning the road, ensures the safety of the new sub-division. What more does Glen Ridge Farm want?! The road was approved NOT as it was originally intended… but as a gravel road with NO vehicular traffic... Now they want tax payers to pay so that they can have NO road! Yet they haven’t proven even a paved road would be detrimental to the farm!
Paige Goulart September 06, 2010 at 02:57 PM
Glen Ridge Farm has been asked to tell how this road will be detrimental to their farm. They have been unable to do so! The Planning Board approved a gravel road with NO vehicular traffic. To be used for emergency vehicles and underground utilities only. This is a publically held road. It has not had taxes paid on it. The owner knew about this road BEFORE purchasing the property. Why cost the tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars to come in another way –a way detrimental to people on Frank Coelho Drive and Stanton Road? Heidi Drive has an extension that runs through Glen Ridge Farm and connects to property on the north side. The owner of Glen Ridge Farm, erected fencing around his farm. His farm is a legal subdivision and he blocked off the publically owned road. He benefits from the farm tax break, saving in excess of $100,000.00 and also benefits by not paying taxes on the paper road. Rhode Island Nurseries wants to subdivide land where they cannot grow crops. They planned to come through the paper road, as is their right. Glen Ridge Farm has carried on a campaign to stop this - “Preserve Glen Ridge Farm”. Yet, they haven’t shown how the gravel road, with NO vehicular traffic will be detrimental to their farm. Glen Ridge Farm already cut through Heidi Dr. and extended the road. They did this to allow themselves, construction vehicles, and even an 18 wheeler to access the property. When a law suit was filed, they let the road cover over.
John Pearl September 07, 2010 at 04:01 PM
Oh look! Here's an alpaca farm with gravel roads in it AND even uses gravel for the alpaca corals! http://www.alpacapasturesva.com/ Wow! Here's another alpaca site that talks about how the adorable animals live side by side with gravel, and even says that for alpaca shelters, "Gravel as opposed to cement is the best flooring material." http://www.alpacas.com/QnA/Care.aspx Hoo boy! Yet another alpaca farm that has their herd reside in shelters with gravel: http://alpacasofoklahoma.com/?page_id=11 I found this info in about 2 minutes of googling. Any body else starting to wonder what the real story is? At this point, I question Tarsagian and Fiore making statements that a gravel road will destroy their farm.
Paige Goulart September 08, 2010 at 12:55 AM
Thank you Mr. Pearl. If more people decided to investigate the truth, perhaps there wouldn't be an issue. The facts speak for themselves...let's just hope there are people out there who either listen or decide to investigate on their own as you did.
Ron Allan September 12, 2010 at 09:33 PM
In response to Mr. Pearl while an alpaca can in fact reside on gravel they cant eat it. The road will take away a large portion of land that the alpacas graze on. The other point that seems to be ignored is that this farm has significant historical value and other options do exist one of which isGlen Ridge farm has offered to pay a good portion of the alternative road which with the installation of the light at the top of Glen road makes a hell of alot more sense than what is proposed now and that same alternative road has been approved as a viable alternative.I agree with youMrs.Goulart.What is the real story and how is it you havent mentioned it since the truth seems to be what we are all after.
Ron Allan September 12, 2010 at 09:55 PM
I take particular issue with Mr. Vaniceks comment that he feels is nursery is being taken for granted First of all no one has denied him the right to develop his land. All that is being asked of him is to not put a road through a historic property to benefit his business.He stands to make in the millions from this venture yet he is a victim . The fact is that the people of Portsmouth will have to absorb the costs of police,fire and schooling for these new residents at a time we can least afford it.His ancestors founded and grew a business without ever having to resort to selling out.If Mr Vanicek feels he must sell land in order to survive where will it end? If this is sale helps his business at the expense of the taxpayers of Portsmouth than I hardly think he is being taken for granted.And dont even get me going about the runoff of pesticides into the Sakonnet river or other surrounding properties or the dust and dirt that flies all over the place in the wind dirtying houses and windows and the lungs of the residents of this island.
Paige Goulart September 12, 2010 at 09:56 PM
The first picture of the road they created shows where the road will start - doesn't cover any area that the alpacas graze on now... the second two pictures show further up the road "closer to the north side" of where the road will end - there is already a road there with a fence on each side.....not much grazing going on there either.....I would think that the planned road will be created in such a way that it will not wash away....especially since it has to meet town specifications. The other way mention that the road could come through is to put the road off of F. Coelho Dr. I would imagine the people on F. Coelho Dr. would not be very please about this. Further more, the key word in your comment on what Kevin would pay is "a portion" and believe it or not we offered to pay for "a portion"......not that we want an additional road running behind what already exists as an easement....
Ron Allan September 13, 2010 at 08:32 PM
The pictures posted by Paige were of a road made by wear and tear when water line work was done at the farm at least four years ago by Peckham Brothers. Number Two with the exception of the entrance at the end of Heidi drive where the road begins the picture doesnot depict where the road will be which is far to the east of the picture. Number three that land is going to be part of a pasture for the horses to graze on as well as the alpacas as soon as it can be properly fenced off pending the outcome of this issue with the road. As for the road not washing away they would have to build a retaining wall of some type on the east side due to the angle or some other expensive solution due to the grade of the land.Gravel will not sit there and not move on its own unless something is on the east side. I am glad to hear that you offered to pay a portion of the cost as well which only enforces the question of why Bruce wont accept the alternative road when he wont be paying for a good part of it.
Paige Goulart September 13, 2010 at 08:58 PM
The picture of the road they created is still up, the pictures of the paved pathway that still exists on the north side of the property can be seen as the first two pictures on the article "Fighting for the Farm". I find it hard to believe that the road they created was just for water line work. Yes, it was done in 2005-2006 and as I said - they used it nightly, deliveries were made using it, and an 18-wheeler delivered the red barn using it. It existed for over two years.....it was then covered up when the litigation began. I beg to differ that it was for only water main installation. I realize you are going on what you have been told, as you were not working on the farm at that time. I am sure the town will do what they have to do to ensure that there is no wash out, it has been a planned road for many years and as mentioned before, Kevin knew about the road. He even tried to have it abandoned. Any work he has done on the farm that will be disturbed by the road going through - I am sorry - but is his own fault. He used the public road for his own purposes. The amount of money that it will cost the taxpayers far exceeds what we offered. The town will need to pay damages to Bruce if the road does not go through the way it is planned. It is a gravel road, with only emergency vehicles using it and for the purpose of water lines (which from what you say are already started). Why can't they be happy with that?! The Planning Board didn't approve a paved road.
Richard Lemish October 20, 2010 at 06:51 PM
I agree with Lori. Having other options for the road, why does Mr. Vanicek have to put the road right thru the middle of Glen Ridge Farm, destroying them and a piece of property with such historical significance? This is just another example of what little regard Mr. Vanicek has for his neighbors. I speak from experience. We live on Glen Rd, across the street from his "dirt" access road. The dust, dirt & mud has reduced the enjoyment of our property for years. The nursery trucks coming in and out of that access road drags all the dirt out onto Glen Road, which then gets blown all over the neighborhood by every passing vehicle. It's impossible to leave the windows open with all the dust blowing around. Upon requesting that gravel be spread on his access road (8 yrs ago) to reduce the dust, the Nursery responded “we’re in no position to do that at this time”. Wow, but they can put in a new development! I fear if the road gets approved, Mr. Vanicek will be destroying yet another portion of Glen Rd and the quality of other neighbors’ lives. Leave Glen Ridge Farm alone, chose another option, respect your neighbors Mr. Vanicek.
Paige Goulart October 20, 2010 at 09:37 PM
Dear Mr. Lemish, I can sympathize with your position with regard to the dust and dirt that has been kicked up by RI Nurseries trucks, but believe me when I tell you that there is no comparison to having your backyard and property you own being used as access for Glen Ridge Farm. Try having dump trucks, pick-ups, garbage trucks, UPS vehicles, 18-wheelers, multiple visitors as well as Ann and Kevin who make at least 20 trips a day in two separate cars coming up and down your backyard every day. This leaves us with a liablity issue ( the speed not being controlled) and not only all of the people who walk, run, and bike over our backyard are at risk, but also our own family and friends. If the road goes through the farm, then our easement goes away and any way you look at it, the traffic will still come down Glen Road to get to the new development. Kevin has known about the paper road since prior to purchasing the property. It could cost tax payers more than $600,000.00 to put the road in another way. This when we didn't approve the school budget?! The compromise has already be made by the planning board.- a gravel road. Kevin and Ann have never proven that the gravel road will harm the farm, most likely it won't. They just don't want it - they want to use our backyard instead...even though Kevin knew a road was always a possiblity. The farm is still a subdivision. I am not willing to foot Kevin's bill for the paper road not to be developed as planned - are you?
madeline Beaucage October 22, 2010 at 03:37 AM
Who is Paige Goulart...what does she do with her life?I don't know her but she sounds as if she is a very unhappy person.I have only to read her comments on this site to come to that conclusion.I'll have to take a ride with my friends to see this farm...it sounds like a beautiful spot. Sounds as if you live nearby,Paige.This farm must be a huge farm with all the traffic you mention. Someone said it is a 100 year old farm with old stone barns, once owned by the Taylor family and some of the trees are 200 years old that are still standing and cared for by this family.How exciting that someone cares enough to save a bit of the past.
faithful reader October 22, 2010 at 12:59 PM
I've had dealings with Paige over the years, and she comes across as someone who thinks she is a priviledged individual. After reading her latest post, I checked out her house and the surrounding area on google maps. There seems to be a perfectly viable road that runs behind her house that borders the Nursery property. As a casual observer of this discussion, it would seem to me that if the Nursery wants to put in a sub-division for its profit, then it should use its land and its money for said subdivision access road and leave the Alpaca farm alone. As usual this discussion has become yet another common to Portsmouth, "Not in my back yard."
Paige Goulart October 22, 2010 at 01:19 PM
I'm one owner of an easement Glen Ridge Farm uses to access their farm. You've read my posts? Certainly you understand, yes I'm unhappy. I believe most people would be, the traffic's a liablity. They're fighting to "save the farm" from a gravel road -which is already a compromise- it was a paved road in town records. Here's the facts again: 1. Kevin knew about the paper road before purchasing the property 2. He doesn't pay taxes on the road 3.He doesn't pay his fair share of taxes at all- the farm's a subdivision (I don't believe he qualifies for the farm tax break) 4.There's no proof a gravel road will hurt the farm - a lot of alpaca farms have gravel roads 5. Kevin put a road in -then let it cover over 6.The deed states the easement terminates for the farm when a road goes in from Heidi 7. As a taxpayer, I don't want to incur the cost of an alternative route for the road- do you? 8. A planned road was approved- legally. 9.The compromise has been made...gravel vs. paved It's not my fault they put the farm over a town owned road. So, "save the farm" all because they want to run and grow a commercial business using my "pretty" backyard as access. I'm sure you're welcome here, please...while you are here...sit on my back yard and watch the traffic, park on my lawn & back up in my yard- just don't let the smiles and beauty fool you...it's a commercial business. RI Nurseries traffic pales in comparision...last night it was midnight when they decided to check on the alpacas...
Paige Goulart October 22, 2010 at 03:16 PM
Dear Faithful Reader, Privileged? I'm not the one driving a Lexus & Mercedes (with vanity plates). Nor do I own multiple properties and LLC's on & off the island. We're a hard working family who pay our fair share of taxes. We even pay taxes on the easement road that Kevin uses for his commercial business. If you are referring to the easement road that runs behind our house, it is privately owned by us and our neighbors (it bisects our property) & we grant rights to Kevin and RI Nurseries to use the easement until the town owned paper road is developed. At that point, we still grant rights to RI Nurseries! When we purchased our property the understanding was the paper road would go in some day. When Kevin purchased his property, it was with the same understanding. He tried to have the road abandoned prior to purchasing the property. I'm simply trying to ensure the town plan is followed. What you are choosing to disregard is that Kevin does not pay taxes on the town owned road nor does he pay taxes on the easement road. He benefits both ways. If the road goes in another way it will cost taxpayers. Why should Bruce have to come in another way, at his expense, when town owned access exists & has for years? The approved plan calls for a gravel road with limited traffic, mainly for utilites and emergency vehicles. Not too much to ask when Kevin is using the land for free now, but no...hit us "privleged people" up again & have us pay for Kevin to have his cake and eat it too.....

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