Neighbors give Rochester Farms proposal mixed reviews

By Andrea Ray | Jul 12, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray Craig Canning (left) presents a proposal for Rochester Farms LLC, with Bill Madden of GAF Engineerng

Rochester — Some neighbors of a proposed farmstand development in Rochester feel that it’s the best plan brought before the town in a long time.

Others? “Well, it’s good…but it could be better.”

The proposal, which will be called Rochester Farms, consists of 60 acres, most of which would be agricultural fields. According to property owner Craig Canning, as well as his representative, Bill Madden of GAF Engineering, four acres in the middle of the property would house buildings - a main retail area and a smaller washing and packaging facility in the back.

Most of the area around the buildings would be turfed and landscaped, with potential for a sit-down area.

Rochester Farms' retail building, at about 7,500 square feet, is intended to store seasonal produce that is grown on the property. The building is set up as a large building with a farmers' porch on the front.

Canning noted that he also intended to sell produce grown by other farmers in the area at the store.

Some residents were worried about the lighting and signage of the farmstand. Canning was quick to allay their fears.

“I don’t want a lot of lighting,” he explained. “Maybe a few wall sconces, and two small lights on the sign. What I don’t want, for lack of a better term, is a Wal-Mart parking lot.”

Canning passed around a photo of a sign similar to the one he envisions for Rochester Farms, which was a painted wooden sign surrounded by flowers.

While some neighbors found the rural aspect of the proposal appealing, others felt that the property wouldn’t actually be ‘rural’ at all.

“We love the idea and use,” said Michael Oleksak of 269 Marion Road, “but if you want to talk about fitting into Rochester’s rural nature, well, this building doesn’t. It’s a typical square shopping center layout.”

Castro’s wife Ginette Castro agreed. “Aesthetically, it would be kind of wonderful if there weren’t 50 parking spots in the front of your store. There’s a possibility of 50 cars being parked there,” she said. “Fifty cars is not my idea of rural.”

Dolores Dernier of 198 Marion Road disagreed. “I know what you’re trying to say,” she told Castro. “But never could I imagine 50 cars there.”

Sara Johnston of 120 Marion Road remained concerned that the project was too commercial. “I support the idea as well,” she said. “But the country aspect of this venture really needs to be maximized. I don’t understand how this is different than any other grocery store.”

“I mean, this is a specialty food store,” Canning said. “You can’t buy your toilet paper and other things here. You can buy food grown here or within the state.”

He explained that he is seeking a special permit from Rochester’s Zoning Board of Appeals to sell commercially within a residential area.

Other neighbors expressed frank support for Rochester Farms, noting how it would enhance Rochester’s “right to farm” community and bring more opportunity to agriculture workers and growers.

Members of the Planning Board had few reservations about the project, reminding neighbors who remained lukewarm that there were other, less-desirable options for the property.

“Don’t throw away something you think you think you won’t like today, because if this goes away, you’re looking at worse possibilities,” said Planning Board member Gary Florindo. “I think it’s one of the best projects I’ve seen in a long time.”

“We all agree that it’s a good project,” Castro said. “But it could be better.”

“I don’t disagree,” Canning said of his project. “It could always be better, but then I’d have to pay for it. The most cost-effective plan is the one I’ve put forward.”

“Something has to happen to these 60 acres,” pointed out Planning Board member Mike Murphy. “I thought it was great to see Craig’s teenage son plowing the fields on a tractor the other day. You don’t see that anymore. Plus,” he continued, “it’s within his right to do whatever he pleases with his property. He could choose to put 40B housing on that lot. He could yank this whole project and put a solar farm in. Some people just aren’t pleased.”

 

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