The Rochester Country Fair (RCF) Committee had its three requests approved by the Rochester Board of Selectmen on October 15, but not without opposition from neighbors near the Pine Street fairgrounds.
In light of a significant financial loss this year due to poor weather, the RCF Committee hopes to recoup the roughly $10,000 lost by adding four additional fundraisers during 2019. The committee also asked for approval to build a permanent structure at the site – a 40-foot by 100-foot pavilion – that could be used instead of renting a giant tent, an expense that suddenly spiked in cost this year.
The committee also asked for more leniency on alcohol consumption while allowing alcohol to be served at specified times during all four days of the fair.
Some residents who live near the fairgrounds opposed adding more fundraising events at the site, with one resident expressing his concern over the “slow creep” of the Country Fair within the neighborhood.
Richard Masciantonio of Quaker Lane said when the fair first relocated from Plumb Corner to Pine Street, the neighbors were reassured that no permanent structures would remain on the site after the fair was over, and the recent agreement between the RCF Committee and the Town provides for only 10 usable days for fairgrounds events, including the four for the fair. Now, he fears the RCF will continue to expand and ask for further exceptions that will affect the neighborhood.
“The fact that the fair didn’t make money shouldn’t be a burden for the neighborhood to assume,” said Masciantonio. “If the fair can’t make money, the fair can’t make money.”
RCF Committee Chairman Kelly Morgado said the RCF account needs to reach $40,000-$50,000 in its account in order to fully fund the fair, but this year it only reached a maximum of $32,000.
“We’ll have to significantly cut back on what we can do for the fair unless we increase some fundraiser dates,” Morgado said.
Leading up to the 2018 RCF, Morgado said the committee was unable to hold all of its six planned fundraisers at the fairgrounds, as allowed by the agreement, due to inclement weather. These fundraisers, said Morgado, are strategically planned to keep noise in the neighborhood at a minimum, which include tractor pull competitions of the quieter antique tractors.
Hartley was skeptical, and referred to the additional fundraisers as potential “Band-Aids” rather than solutions.
“To me, what this is about is a neighborhood who used to look at a field who now looks at a [fairground],” Hartley said. At the start, activities were planned for three days, he added. “[The neighborhood] is now looking at something going on over there one weekend every month. That’s not what was the original idea, in my mind,” said Hartley.
Selectman Brad Morse, who attended a recent meeting with the RCF Committee and spoke with some abutters, made the motion to allow the additional fundraisers, resulting in a unanimous vote to approve.
The proposed pavilion also got 3-0 approval; however, it was only a preliminary approval. The RCF Committee will have to return with a proposed design and a plan, subject to final.
RCF neighbor Jeremy Peck supported the committee’s requests, and cited concerns over development of the open field should the RCF no longer exist. Another abutter, Craig Parker, emphasized that he supports the RCF, but not an expansion of it.
“We were guaranteed that when the fair … was over, we would never know that the fair was there.” Parker said neighbors were also told a green vinyl fence would be put up around the fairground perimeter, but that didn’t happen either.
Resident Brad Correia, concerned about the fate of the fair, said, “The price of things goes up all the time. If we can’t evolve, I think this fair is going to be lost, and I’m not sure that’s what [we want] to happen.”
Scott Hartley wondered how the Town benefitted from the RCF, other than by simply having the event. He said he didn’t see how he personally benefited from the RCF.
“It’s pretty much the only community event this town has,” said Morgado, although Hartley replied that he attends plenty of little league games, equating that to a community event.
Resident Kevin Thompson, who also leads the local Scouts, said the community does benefit form the fair, especially the Scouts.
“The [country fair] is our single fundraiser for the entire year,” said Thompson. The funds pay for the kids to go to camp and host events and activities, he said. “Without that fundraiser, we have to get back to the drawing board. … The fair is extremely important to what we’re doing. … We have a vested interest in the fair succeeding as well.”
The committee also asked to expand alcohol consumption during the fair by adding additional days and opening up the entire grounds as opposed to offering only one small cordoned-off “beer and wine garden” that even had Hartley admitting, “The concept didn’t work.”
Morse said the police chief had no concerns, and an extra detail officer could be added for further security.
Alcohol consumption was unanimously approved for Thursday-Friday from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Saturday from noon – 9:00 pm, and Sunday from noon – 5:00 pm, but the RCF Committee would still need to apply for an alcohol license when the time comes.
Addressing the residents, Hartley acknowledged, “There’s no way we’re gonna make everybody happy.”
In other matters, the board referred several zoning bylaw amendment articles to the Planning Board for inclusion on this Town Meeting’s warrant.
The board also approved and finalized the warrant for the Monday, November 19 Fall Special Town Meeting taking place at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Memorial School.
Also during the meeting, the board approved a renewal for a $192,000 bond anticipation notice (BAN) for the ambulance debt. The original BAN was $240,000.
The Rochester Town Hall Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be held on December 3 at 6:00 pm.
The meeting room that night was filled with local Scouts present to observe the meeting as part of earning their citizenship in the community merit badge.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen will be a special meeting for Friday, October 26, at 9:00 am at the Rochester Town Hall in order to hold a classification hearing.
Rochester Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry