~~Two weeks before Christmas, Kensington Garden Center, located on the Chamberlain Highway, was sent a cease and desist order by the town zoning enforcement officer for running a gift shop at the site.

Development Services Director Hellyn Riggins oversees Planning, Zoning and Building, and cited a list of items the garden center is allowed to sell. She explained that the list was given to, and signed by, garden center owners prior to the business opening four years ago. The document states that only items such as plants, seeds, fertilizer, garden stones, garden art and decorations, among other garden-related products, are to be sold there.
Some residents are fired up about the Kensington Garden Center gift shop going away. The shop had a line out the door Sunday, Jan. 17 with customers eager to sign a petition to have the town zoning changed. Shop manager Tracey Shipman noted that around 60 people signed by Sunday night.

“A customer came in to buy candles like she always does and she was furious to learn what was happening,” Shipman said. “She left, took a copy of the petition, and minutes later people were coming to sign.”

Shipman stated that more than 20 percent of the garden center’s annual sales come from the gift shop. Without the gift shop, she said, the garden center would most likely have to close. “Being in Connecticut, there is a short growing season,” she said.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Town Council meeting, Kensington Garden Center owner Margaret Ellison spoke on behalf of her co-owners and employees.

“I just wanted to make note that it’s really hard in the state of Connecticut, either as a business large or small, to do business in this state,” she said. “And receiving kind of arbitrary complaints over time is just very difficult.”

Mayor Mark Kaczynski told Ellison that since the town received a complaint regarding the shop, the town needed to look into it.

“It’s in a residential zone and though it’s been a garden shop for all this time, that does limit what can be sold there,” the mayor said.

Right now, Kensington Garden Center is zoned as garden space only. Riggins noted that while the town wants the business to thrive, the garden center does need to follow the rules. She said the garden center would be able to remain open as long as it sold only what is listed on the document signed by the owners.

Riggins added that the previous owners had gone to court on the issue before, and the judge ruled that they could not sell anything but specific garden-related items at the business.

Kensington Garden Center owners plan to attend the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, to review and appeal the cease and desist decision.