Local Farmers Want Town Zoning to Conform to State Law
A citizen's petition for an article on the October 15 Fall Town Meeting warrant seeks to amend the current town zoning bylaws, in particular those that require special permits for agriculture, floriculture and horticulture. The amendment will effectively remove the special permitting that is currently required as these activities are already allowed by-right by both Massachusetts State Law and Groton Right to Farm Bylaw.
Spokesperson for the group, farmer Meredith Scarlett, told the Planning Board during their public hearing that the intent of the article "is to bring town zoning in line with the state and Groton Farm Bylaw. Agricultural Housing is allowed. People in the building department said 'no it wasn't allowed' and that only accessory apartments were allowed. After a few thousand dollars spent on a lawyer, the law was located and I was able to do it. This shouldn't be a secret. I wanted to have a nice clean section for agricultural labor housing. My apartment has met all the regulations...This is seasonal labor housing. We should make it simple and clear in town and easy to find...The town says no but it is allowed by state law."
Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Officer Milton Kenney told the Planning Board that the proposal from the citizen's petition "mirrors the state laws...It is already in place. This is also a clear definition for the Zoning Enforcement Officer." He noted that appeals can take a long time and in one case, 10 years and a lot of money was spent and the court found in favor of state laws.
George Moore stressed that in terms of people purchasing a house near to a farm, the Realtor must advise potential buyers under the Right To Farm Bylaw. He added that the Board of Health has the authority to address any health issues, and that all farms are inspected yearly. "We need to be good neighbors," Moore said, when people move to a farming area.
Land use Director Michelle Collette noted that both farmers and residents have the right of appeal through the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Planner Jason Parent asked how a farm is designated and Moore responded that it involves actual income made from the land - such as selling crops or meat.
One area that Scarlett pointed out was limitation on the number of pigs at a farm. Currently, it is limited to 15. She advised that when two litters are born, it is easy to exceed that number and that that limitation should be eliminated.
She also pointed out that under current zoning, special permits are valid for only five years and
Stressed, "Lenders care about this deeply," when there is financing or refinancing in process.
Discussion continued for quite a while, expanding into the next agenda item by 45 minutes. The Planning Board then voted to continue the public hearing on the Citizen's Petition Amendment to Thursday, Oct. 4, at 8 p.m. to gather additional information.