SCARBOROUGH — With an interest in keeping business in a residential neighborhood, Meeting House Farm owners are asking the town to make a special exception to allow a farm stand on their property amid controversy.

The farm, located at 35 Hunnewell Road, is about 2.5 acres, with most of the farmland hidden to passersby, said Gerald Schofield, the attorney representing property owners Emily and Scott Springer. There is no livestock or cannabis on the property.

Most of the farm’s business is conducted online, but the owners are interested in opening a farm stand and hosting classes on the property, Brian Longstaff, zoning administrator, said. These activities, which fall under commercial agriculture in the town’s zoning ordinance, require a special exception permit in the Residential 2 District, which is where the property is located.

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

Logan Donahue, a direct abutter, said she wasn’t against farming but believed there would be additional traffic issues.

“We have concerns about property values and things of that nature,” Donahue said. 

Emily Springer tried to appeal for a special exception in the fall of 2020, but neighborhood backlash caused owners to take a step back and engage in community education, she said. She and Scott Springer held an informational open house on June 6 and have received support.

In November, when I put this forward, we really believed that everyone would love to have a vegetable stand,” she said. “People have been asking us for it. They’d been walking by, and I had talked to the town a couple of times and as the business started growing, I thought, ‘Wow, we really need to get this done because I like to have things in order.’ I honestly did not talk to any neighbors before I submitted. I thought everyone would be on board. I really thought everyone would want to have a cute little organic farm in their neighborhoodespecially given the historic nature of our property and that it was once a farm. I was really wrong, and we were completely blindsided by the negative comments.”

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

“Many of our neighbors were and continue to be very vocal that they do not want a farm stand or a farm in their neighborhood,” Emily Springer said in the post. “We’ve been told things like — ‘Farms don’t belong in our neighborhood.’ Our family was blindsided. Neighbors went door to door spreading misinformation about us. They sent out emails to people not even in the general area to get them to write to the town. All of this to stop a little family farm.”

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

“It comes down to what people are asking for,” she said. “Our neighbors are asking for vegetables and they would like to come and get them. We want to have it safely available to them so we’re offering parking on the grass and they can come inside of our property to pick up the vegetables. Other people are interested in the way that we’re growing. They’re interested in a no-till farm. They’re interested in farming in an urban area. They’re interested in homesteading, and we want to be able to educate.”

Meeting House Farm is located at 35 Hunnewell Road.

Some abutters, like the Bernstein family on Hunnewell Road, are hoping that if the Zoning Board of Appeals approves of the special exception use, Meeting House Farm is meeting all criteria, said Shea Watson, an attorney.

“The important thing here is that the Bernsteins want to be in support of this,” she said. “They think it’s great that the Springers are doing this, but it’s critical that the board implement certain conditions and restrictions that become part of any permit that’s granted here.”

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

“The bottom line is the Springers have been acting in bad faith,” he said. “They’ve been acting in bad faith for five years.”

Although Schofield said 95 percent of Meeting House Farm’s business is conducted online, some local buyers do drive to the property to pick up purchases.

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

“If you stick to your online business model, at least at this location, it might be feasible because it eliminates concerns we have about vehicular traffic, and you’re keeping people off of your property except for your employees,” he said.

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

“The roads are narrow,” he said. “There are lots of kids, lots of pedestrians. Adding any traffic to an R2 neighborhood is going to increase the unsafe pedestrian traffic conditions.”

Scott Springer said that the farm is not trying to cause a traffic increase.

“We’re promoting neighbor participants to walk, to ride their bikes, to be a part of the farm within the surrounding area,” he said. “Our intention is not necessarily to drive people from Portland here. It is a community-based urban neighborhood setting we want to uphold and promote.”

At the end of the meeting, Bourke suggested that the Springers continue educating the public before returning with a revamped proposal.

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