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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."

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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