When Is A Farm Really A Farm?

With Mattapoisett now designated as a “Right to Farm” community, boards and commissions may see more property owners stepping forward to assert their right to use their land as a farm. And if so, members of such boards may have to take a quick course in agricultural zoning.

That was the case on June 18 when Veronica Brockwell, owner of Cedar Rock Farm at 13 Randall Lane, came before the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals requesting a Special Permit to construct a caretaker’s single-bedroom living space above the existing barn.

Represented by Attorney Michael Kehoe and Engineer Richard Charon, Brockwell’s operation was described as a farm producing livestock for sale. However, the request to build a separate living space above the barn for two farm workers was a first for the ZBA, generating a fair number of questions and concerns.

ZBA Chairman Susan Atkin asked Building Inspector Andrew Bobola, “Can we allow two families where none is allowed?”

The project as described by Kehoe and Charon is to create a one-bedroom living space in the loft area above a 13-foot tall barn. If approved, this would provide Brockwell’s farmhands a space to live on the premises.

“Farming is a 24-hour-a-day job,” said Kehoe, adding that it would give Brockwell greater flexibility in negotiating payment terms with potential employees.

Kehoe also pointed to several state laws that supersede local bylaws granting farmers the right to provide living quarters to employees.

“When did it become a farm?” asked board member Mary Anne Brogan. Brockwell said she has been raising and selling mini Juliana pigs, Nigerian dwarf milking goats, and Friesian horses on her 10-acre farm while passing out her business card. Kehoe said that profits from the sale of agricultural goods have been reported as required to the Building Department.

Bobola described for the ZBA the financial requirements imposed on property owners claiming to have a farming operation, such as income of a least $4,000 annually from the sales of agricultural products. Brockwell said that one pig or goat could fetch more than $1,200 alone. He also said the state had changed the acreage requirement from five acres to two, in an effort to increase the number of small farms in the state – an effort, he said, to help curtail the subdivision of large parcels into housing tracts.

Board members were concerned about what happens if and when Brockwell sells the property with a separate living space in an area zoned for single-family homes. Kehoe said conditions could be written into the Special Permit prohibiting such usage.

Defending Brockwell’s farming operation in terms of best practices was Amy Silvia, animal inspector for the Town, and Animal Control Officer Kathy Massey.

“I make unannounced inspections and this is the most immaculate [farm] this town has,” said Silvia. “The animals receive extremely good care…. They are more like her children than animals.”

Echoing those sentiments was Massey who said, “I have never received a complaint from the neighbors for noise or anything.”

Board member Kenneth Pacheco said, “I think it’s great…. I think the town needs more of this…. I want a pig!”

Brockwell received a Special Permit with the following conditions: use cannot be changed without a new application to the ZBA; new living space in the barn may not be used as a rental unit by Brockwell or subsequent owners; and no animals may be boarded without prior approval.

Other cases heard were Hillside Motel, Krishi Kishnan Corp., 92 Marion Road, approved for new signage; Special Permit granted to Michael Amaral, 0 Harbor Road, for the construction of a new single-family dwelling; and William Sweeney, 22 Centre Drive, received a Special Permit to construct an addition.

The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals will be announced for July 16 at 6:00 pm in the Mattapoisett Town Hall conference room if sufficient applications are received.

By Marilou Newell


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