Neighbors express support for Rochester Farms
Applause isn't something you typically hear at a Planning Board meeting, but there was plenty of it in Rochester on Tuesday night.
Craig Canning, who has proposed a farm and farmers market on Marion Road called Rochester Farms, was met with lots of support from neighbors.
Canning's proposal includes two buildings on four acres of the property -- one for food processing, and the other a 7,200 square-foot building which will function as a farmers market. The remaining 56 acres will be agriculturally farmed, with the exception of several acres of wetlands at the back of the property. The fields will produce seasonal crops such as pumpkins, squash, lettuce and carrots.
Canning nearly shelved the project in August, after receiving pushback from abutters. He decided to go forward after hearing from other nearby residents.
“I’m for it 320 percent, if not more,” neighbor Dolores Dernier said. “I can’t say enough about getting this thing done and getting the farm in there.”
The packed room at the Council on Aging, which fits more people than the Town Hall room typically used for meetings, erupted in applause.
But Don Fleming, an attorney representing an abutter, soon expressed concern. Canning received a special permit from the Zoning Board to sell commercially in a residential area on July 13. Fleming argued that Canning required another permit.
"The farmers market is outside your zoning bylaws," Fleming said. "You can have a roadside stand…but you can’t go forward unless there’s a valid special permit for the uses he’s suggesting."
Fleming also suggested that because the Zoning Board of Appeals had already closed its hearing on the project, the Planning Board didn’t have the right to weigh in on the matter.
"Your authority to even proceed in this matter depends on the [Zoning Board]," he continued. "I suggest to you that you don’t have jurisdiction to proceed…there are a lot of legal questions."
Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson dismissed the idea that the board didn’t have authority, but not before more neighbors could jump in.
“I live right across from the field, and I’m in 100 percent support of this project,” a neighbor said. “I think that everything [Canning] has been asked to do, he has. He has been very accommodating and he is trying to make this work for everyone.”
“I sent in a letter with 93 signatures on it that all fully supported the project,” Stewart Grimes said.
“That’s the best thing for that land,” another neighbor said. “I’m 100 percent for it.”
However, a few abutters spoke up that even though they supported the project, they had questions.
“I live right across the street and I’m fully 100 percent for the farm. It’s the best thing to ever happen to that property,” Marion Cutler said. “The farmers market sounds good, but a retail store doesn’t seem necessary. We don’t need a retail store.”
Cutler also expressed concern about the hours operation, which were approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals for seven days a week from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
“There has to be some increase in traffic,” she said. “I’m going to have to put up with that on Sundays, on holidays. That’s what I object to. I do not object to the farm.”
Ultimately, a decision was postponed until Canning gets the board information on additional screening and architectural siding.