Residents remain unhappy with board's approach to Rochester Farms

Sep 27, 2017

A contentious public hearing on Rochester Farms, a proposed 60-acre project that includes a retail produce store on Route 105 in Rochester, ended Tuesday night with the Planning Board indicating that it was inclined to approve the plans and opponents threatening to take the matter to court.

Planning Board Chair Arnie Johnson laid down several possible conditions on Rochester Farms before closing the project's public hearing. Property owner Craig Canning agreed to all of the proposed restrictions, which include a limit on when deliveries may be made to the property, when the dumpster may be emptied, and when exterior lighting must be shut off (8 p.m.).

The restrictions were not enough to allay the concerns of some abutters, who remained concerned about Canning's choice of site placement within the 60-acre field, and felt that the Planning Board members were ignoring Rochester bylaws as they assessed the proposal.

Sara Johnston, of 120 Marion Road, noted that the town's zoning bylaws stated that development of residential areas should protect scenic vistas as seen from the road, and that structures should be placed along the edges of fields to preserve the view.

The Rochester Farms buildings are intended for the middle of the field, 400 feet from the roadway.

"I don’t see where any of those bylaws are being considered with the site plan we’re getting," she said.

“When those bylaws were put in, they were more for residential dwellings, so that’s how we apply it," Johnson explained. "When you have a 60-acre field staying agriculture and you’re developing four acres, with the building 400 feet off the road, you're have a pretty good view."

Don Fleming, a representative of abutters Kenneth and Marion Cutler, noted that an appeal would be made if Rochester Farms received site plan review approval from the Planning Board.

"Our zoning bylaws talk about minimizing the effect of development," Kenneth Cutler said. "I see no attempts to minimize. Are our bylaws more like guidelines? Are you paying attention to your own bylaws?” He referenced a proposed alternative that had been presented to the Planning Board at the previous meeting, which he felt had been disregarded by members of the board.

“The alternative plan's parking lot, placed on the side or behind the building, is a safety hazard," Johnson told him. " I would never even suggest moving that parking lot. I still think six percent of a 60-acre site is minimal disturbance.”

“Except where you place the buildings," Cutler countered.

“Because it’s across from your house. If we shoved it over to the side, maybe those people wouldn’t be happy, and it’s a never-ending cycle for us," Johnson told him.

"Thank you," Cutler told the board. "You've affirmed to me that where I am right now is exactly where I should be."

“Do what you want," Johnson told him. "It’s not our first rodeo in court, believe me.”

As the public hearing for Rochester Farms has now been closed, the members of the Planning Board will discuss a draft decision which will either be presented at the board's October 12 meeting, or continued to another meeting. If the application is approved, it is then subject to a 20-day appeal period, before being signed by the Town Clerk on the 21st day.