Developer withdraws Rochester Farms application after abutters appeal

Dec 15, 2017

Following appeals in court from abutters, Craig Canning has withdrawn his application for Rochester Farms.

The project would have seen two buildings constructed on four acres of the property – two 7,200 square foot buildings for food processing and a farmers market. The remaining 56 acres would have been agriculturally farmed, with the exception of several acres of wetlands at the back of the property. The fields would have produced seasonal crops such as pumpkins, squash, lettuce and carrots.

In a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board, Canning’s attorney Jane Mello Pineau wrote, “Unfortunately, projected litigation costs make the project economically unfeasible at this time given the two lawsuits filed in the Wareham District Court and the Plymouth County Superior Court coupled with the administrative appeal to the Zoning Board.”

Canning originally proposed Rochester Farms back in May. Canning received a special permit from Rochester's Zoning Board of Appeals to operate a limited commercial business in an area zoned for residential and agricultural uses.

The project was met with both support and frustration from residents from the get-go, several of whom came to Rochester Planning Board meetings to have their say. Some stated that they were happy to have a farming project in Rochester. Others felt the Planning Board was not properly evaluating Canning's submission, and that the project was an industrial proposal masquerading as a farmers market.

Canning nearly shelved the project once before in August, after receiving pushback from abutters. He decided to go forward after receiving support from other nearby residents. At a Sept. 12 meeting, neighbors showed up in droves to show support for the project.

Many abutters expressed excitement for a farm in the neighborhood, and applauded what they called Canning's "willingness to work with the neighbors." Several also stated that they were glad the project was a farm, rather than affordable housing or a solar field. After the project faced criticism, a letter of support from resident Stewart Grimes was circulated and sent to the Planning Board; Grimes claimed that the letter received 93 signatures in support of Rochester Farms.

However abutters Maryann and Kenneth Cutler, as well as Marion Road resident Sara Johnston, remained wary of the project. The Cutlers and Johnston noted that they were in favor or a farming project, and had initially thought Rochester Farms was a wonderful idea—but, they added, Canning's project wasn't actually a farm. As they saw it, Rochester Farms was an industrial project on land zoned for agricultural and residential use. Maryann Cutler cited the long, year-round business hours, the farmers market's seven-days per week schedule, 50-space parking lot, paved ring road around the buildings and increase in truck delivery traffic, asking the Planning Board how that could be considered agricultural.

The Cutlers also remained uncertain of Canning's proposed buildings, stating in earlier Planning Board meetings that he hadn't given enough of an indication of what they would be used for. Johnston added that she felt that the defined uses were too vague for the total 14,400 square feet of both buildings, and should be scrutinized more closely by the Planning Board.

The Cutlers filed an appeal with the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Planning Board’s site plan review decision, noting that they did not feel the Planning Board had operated in the correct procedure while evaluating the Rochester Farms proposal. Additionally, the Cutlers filed lawsuits against the project in the Wareham District Court and the Plymouth County Superior Court.

Canning and the Cutlers were scheduled to be at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting for a public hearing on Dec. 14, but the town’s attorney Blair Bailey explained that Canning was withdrawing his application.

Canning was not in attendance at the ZBA meeting. It is unclear what he plans to do with the property at this time.