Meeting House Farm wants to license a farm on property in Scarborough

SCARBOROUGH – Anxious to keep their business in a residential area, the owners of Meeting House Farm are asking the city to make a special exception to allow a farm on their property amid the controversy.

The farm, located at 35 Hunnewell Road, is around 2.5 acres, with most of the farmland hidden from passers-by, said Gerald Schofield, the attorney representing owners Emily and Scott Springer. There are no livestock or cannabis on the property.

Most of the farm’s activities are conducted online, but the owners are keen to set up a farm stand and run classes on the property, said Brian Longstaff, zoning administrator. These activities, which fall under commercial agriculture in the city’s zoning ordinance, require a special exception permit in Residential Quarter 2, where the property is located.

On June 9, the Scarborough Zoning Appeal Board said safety and traffic concerns were preventing members from approving the proposal as currently presented. Members also said they could not ignore the concerns of neighbors and neighbors on the property, some of whom were in attendance.

Logan Donahue, a direct neighbor, said she was not against farming but believed there would be additional traffic problems.

“We’re concerned about the value of properties and things of that nature,” Donahue said.

Emily Springer attempted to apply for a special exception in fall 2020, but the backlash from the neighborhood prompted homeowners to step back and engage in community education, she said. She and Scott Springer hosted an information open house on June 6 and received support.

In November, when I put this forward, we really believed that everyone would like at have a vegetable stand, ”she said. “People have asked us for it. They had been there, and I had spoken to the city a few times and as the business started to grow I was like, “Wow, we really have to get there because I like things to be in order. Honestly, I haven’t talked to anyone neighbors before submitting. I thought everyone would be on board. I really thought that everyone would like to have a nice little organic farm in their district, mostly given the historical nnature of our property and that it was once a farm. I was really wrong, and we were completely blinded through negative comments.

A Meeting House Farm Facebook post on June 2 highlighting the call received over 350 shares and over 230 reactions.

“Many of our neighbors were and continue to make it very clear that they don’t want a farm stand or a farm in their neighborhood,” Emily Springer said in the post. “We were told things like, ‘Farms don’t belong to our neighborhood.’ Our family was taken aback. Neighbors went door to door spreading misinformation about us. They sent emails to people who were not even in the headquarters to write to the city. All this to stop a small family farm.

Being a no-till farm, Meeting House Farm has drawn attention and curiosity, Emily Springer said at the board meeting.

“It depends on what people ask for,” she said. “Our neighbors are asking for vegetables and they would like to come and get them. We want to have it available to them safely, so we offer parking on the grass and they can come inside our property to pick up the vegetables. Other people are interested in how we grow. They are interested in a no-till farm. They are interested in agriculture in an urban area. They are interested in homestead and we want to be able to educate.

Meeting House Farm is located at 35 Hunnewell Road.

Some members, like the Bernstein family on Hunnewell Road, are hopeful that if the zoning appeal board approves the use of the special exception, Meeting House Farm will meet all the criteria, said lawyer Shea Watson.

“The important thing here is that the Bernsteins want to support this,” she said. “They think it’s good that the Springers are doing this, but it is essential that the council implements certain conditions and restrictions that are part of any license granted here.”

Living near the property and just hearing about the property can give people different impressions, said neighbor David Cleary.

“In the end, the Springers acted in bad faith,” he said. “They have been in bad faith for five years.

Although Schofield said 95% of Meeting House Farm’s business is conducted online, some local buyers are coming to the property to collect their purchases.

If 100 percent of the business were online, owners might have a better chance of getting approval, said board member David Bourke.

“If you stick to your online business model, at least in this place it could be feasible because it eliminates the concerns we have about automobile traffic and you keep people out of your property except your employees, ”he said.

Hunnewell Road is a busy area, said Peter Freilinger, board member.

“The roads are narrow,” he says. “There are a lot of children, a lot of pedestrians. Adding any traffic to an R2 neighborhood will increase the dangerous conditions of pedestrian traffic.

Scott Springer said the farm is not trying to cause increased traffic.

“We encourage neighboring participants to walk, cycle, be part of the farm nearby,” he said. “Our intention isn’t necessarily to bring the people of Portland here. We want to defend and promote an urban community neighborhood environment.

At the end of the meeting, Bourke suggested that the Springers continue to educate the public before coming back with a revamped proposal.

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