Abutters Abundant in Case of New Horse Farm

            On June 30 Lexington residents Carol and Ross Speer bought 6.03 acres of land at 66 Burgess Avenue, where daughter Katie Speer now lives and hopes to soon operate a business there, teaching children how to ride horses.

            Since the land is zoned according to residential and agricultural categories, raising, training, and boarding of horses on the property is “as by right” agricultural use, according to Rochester Town Counsel Blair Bailey. But giving lessons is an active business and therefore requires the Special Permit that the Speers seek.

            In their September 24 hybrid meeting, the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals heard the case. Despite the applicants’ wishes to be awarded the Special Permit on the spot, substantial questions from abutters persuaded the ZBA to vote to continue the hearing to Thursday, October 8.

            Katie Speer, who owns 11 horses and operates as Darkhorse Training out of a facility in Berkley, wants to grow her business in Rochester. To that end, her parents created Five O’Clock Farm LLC for the purpose of buying the land in Rochester and to build facilities on the property.

            The plan as presented would a large outdoor ring, a new 140-by-70 foot indoor arena, a 80-by-36, 23-foot high, 10-stall barn, and a new septic system. There is fencing planned and, according to the applicants, plenty of trees to block the view from abutters.

            While the Speers indicated that efforts had been made to reach out to some abutting neighbors, others on the September 24 Zoom call said that they had not been contacted and were caught off guard by plans that would change a long-standing neighborhood treasured for its privacy.

            “We want to keep a low-key operation here,” said Katie Speer, who envisions 15-20 horses and would work on the property with business partner Caitlin Lewis. “Most shows are off property, but we would like to host some small horse shows for lesson clients so they can showcase their skills for family and friends, but nothing big enough to cause traffic issues.”

            Katie Speer said she wants to be able to give lessons in the evenings when necessary to meet a student’s schedule, and that would necessitate flood lights on the property. “We plan on maintaining the natural vegetation and keep some natural buffers so that we’re protecting everybody’s privacy,” said Ross Speer.

            Abutter Michael Kent described himself as a former ZBA member, and questioned the board’s purview since the purchase of the land is based on what he called “a commercial enterprise from start to finish.” Kent took up issue on varying matters, including hours of operation, the height, and nature of the floodlights to be installed, and suggested the Speers host interested abutters for a site visit were the many subjects on his mind and, he assumed, others’ minds could be addressed.

            A 10-by-15 foot dump trailer is planned for the site for weekly removal of manure. Katie Speer said the trailer is a two-away type and, especially being located at the center of the property, is very unlikely to transmit a smell beyond property limits.

            Bailey explained to Kent that Rochester’s bylaws include a catch-all empowering of the ZBA to grant the Special Permit.

            Chair David Arancio asked Bailey for clarification in distinguishing the lessons apart from anything else in the Speers’ plans. Bailey added onto Arancio’s question, noting that creating a nuisance is another reason why the ZBA might not grant the Special Permit.

            “In other words, if the smell (created a nuisance), the Board of Health would get involved and has gotten involved with manure piles in various places in the town when the smell has created a nuisance on abutting properties. You can have an allowed use all you want, but if it starts impacting neighboring properties, it’s going to bring town enforcement in,” said Bailey, who told the board it can require weekly dumping of manure.

            “We could put a tarp on if you want us to,” Katie Speer told Arancio. “If you leave them for months and months and months, they create a smell, but I don’t plan on doing anything like that.”

            Kent questioned if abutters were going to be able to freely live their lives without being concerned any noise might spook the horses. “I’m not opposed to horses, but I’m opposed to a lot of things I have heard tonight,” he said, informing the ZBA that a decision granting the Special Permit on the September 24 meeting would result in litigation.

            Several other abutters made their concerns known, not the least of which was needing time to digest the details in order to be able to come back an articulate those.

            They will get that chance now on October 8.

            Bailey suggested the applicant set up a meeting with the abutters during the two-week interim so they can better understand each other’s specific concerns and be better prepared to arrive for the continued hearing knowing where they stand. The board, said Bailey, needs more clarification and specificity on the lighting and traffic patterns.

            Arancio suggested Speer review the narrative presented with the application and incorporate some of the talking points from the September 24 meeting into a revised presentation on October 8. He also encouraged abutters with suggestions for conditions of a special permit to submit those to the ZBA ahead of the next meeting.

            In the only other hearing before the ZBA on September 24, Anita and William Milka presented a revised plan that they had submitted on September 21 as they seek variances for relief under Chapter 20.40 Section D.1 for approval for a lot with reduced frontage, reduction in buildable area and reduction in lot shape at 246 and 268 New Bedford Road.

            In revisiting the continued case (No. 1149), ZBA member Richard Cutler said, “I like this new plan layout a whole lot better than what we had in the past … I’m prepared to vote.”

            In two votes, the ZBA approved two variances: as to the hardship as it relates to the frontage is the preexisting condition of the lot, and as to the hardship as it relates to the buildable area hardship being the wetland.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for Thursday, October 8.

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Mick Colageo

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