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New by-law to re-open Rice's Fruit Farm

Date: 4/23/2012

April 23, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Planning Board has made a significant step in the quest to making the former Rice's Fruit Farm building on Main Street a vital part of Wilbraham once again.

At a public hearing on April 18, Planning Board Chair Eric Fuller outlined a proposed by-law change that would add a new zoning definition, called a Heritage Farm Stand.

The definition reads, "A Heritage Farm Stand Development is a mixed use development, which derives from the adaptive reuse, restoration and economic revitalization of a historically significant farm stand structure and associated contiguous dwellings, barns and other accessory buildings, which are located on land formerly in agricultural use that has been separated from its former productive land base."

Fuller explained that this definition and subsequent use regulations were created in response to Cynthia Maloni and her family's interest in re-opening the Rice's fruit stand that was a fixture in the community for decades.

"The primary problem we faced was when Rice's controlled everything, it was all one operation, and because it was agriculturally oriented, they could grow the crop and sell their materials and everything was [legal]," he said. "The fact that the orchards were sold off means that for the new scenario to reinvigorate the big white building, we have had to creatively put together the wording [in the by-law change]."

Fuller further explained that the by-law amendment is written in such a way that it is specific to the Rice's property.

"We don't believe that this could happen anywhere else," he said. "We looked at all the potential maybes, so we're excited to have what we've done here."

The Maloni family, who also owns Cindy's Drive-In in Granby, has a financial commitment from a bank to purchase the property, but needs the by-law amendment to be approved at the May 8 Town Meeting and then by the attorney general.

Realizing that the farm stand cannot remain economically viable simply selling produce, the Planning Board outlined 14 approved uses, ranging from gift and antique sales to appliance repair to residential housing in the three houses that also stand on the property.

While abutter Frederick Coolidge, speaking on behalf of several surrounding neighbors, asked that the blacksmith shop option be taken out of the accepted uses, he also stated that the neighbors of Rice's "wholeheartedly support" what the Maloni family hopes to accomplish. The Malonis and the Planning Board agreed to strike the blacksmith shop item.

Cynthia Maloni's son Dominic, who lives in Wilbraham, credited the Planning Board with their ability to help move the project forward.

"The Planning Board has been very helpful, positive and open to working with us because they know [Rice's] has been dormant for three years and they'd rather see it bring in business and keep it local," he said. "They're happy that someone's doing this and not just knocking it down."

Cynthia Maloni explained that in addition to some of the normal activities like the selling of produce and bakery items, the family intends to open an ice cream shop on the premises. Dominic Maloni said other plans are being discussed, but "it's a moving target."

Cynthia Maloni's other son Anthony noted that the family planned to keep the Rice's name associated with the business.

The Malonis said that if the by-law change is approved, the farm stand would not open until September at the earliest.

"There are major renovations that need to be done before it can open," Anthony Maloni said.

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