Rochester Farms granted commercial special permit

By Andrea Ray | Jul 13, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray

Rochester — The proposed Rochester Farms still has a long road to being shovel-ready, but it cleared the first hurdle on July 13, receiving a special permit for the commercial business to operate on agriculturally-zoned land.

The Rochester Zoning Board granted the permit after listening to an explanation of property owner Craig Canning, who purchased the Marion Road property in 2016.

Canning hopes the 60-acre site, which was formerly the Rochester Airport, can be part farm, part farmers market. The approval was necessary for him to continue with the project -- a denial would have meant that he could not operate a business at all on that land, which would have killed the farmers market aspect of the project.

Canning wants to develop just under four of the acres into two, 7,200-square foot buildings. One would be a processing building for food grown on the property, and the other would be retail space.

Ninety-one abutters were sent letters informing them of the public hearing; 14 attended the meeting. A few, such as neighbor Marion Cutler, whose home faces Canning's property, expressed concern with the number of retail hours that Canning is considering -- a maximum of 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. every day.

"That isn't a farmer's market," she said. "That is a Cumberland Farms, right here in Rochester."

Ron Jewett asked Canning if he would be processing any outside food in the food processing building.

"What will be processed is food grown on-site, and any local food brought in to be sold here," Canning explained, noting that he would bring in corn from Cervelli Farm. "Nothing will be coming in and then going back out."

Zoning Board member Kirby Gilmore wondered whether Rochester Farms should be considered a commercial venture or a farm stand.

"It's not a farm stand, in the sense that [Canning] doesn't live on the property," Canning's attorney, Jane Pineau said. "So from that perspective, it's more of a farmers market than a farm stand."

Pineau defended the project's rural character, something that some abutters had questioned due to the project's commercial nature.

“A locally-sourced farm market is keeping within the 'right to farm' agricultural share," she said. "The lion's share of this property will continue to be farmed. A small portion will be used for commercial purposes...We’re looking at something quite unique and quite in tenor with the character of this community. The commercial endeavor will allow the rest of the property to function as agricultural."

Cutler, the neighbor, said she is in favor of the farming aspect.

"If it couldn't be conservation land, the next best thing is farming," she explained. "It's the other aspects that concern me."

Canning recommended that concerned residents investigate Four Town Farm in Seekonk or Wilson Farm in Lexington to get an idea of what Rochester Farms might look like.

The Zoning Board ultimately granted the special permit for commercial purposes with some restrictions: the buildings cannot exceed 7,200 square feet, there cannot be more than 50 parking spots on the final plans, the sign cannot be larger than 6'x6' and the store must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.

Additionally, the store may not sell lottery tickets, fuel, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

"Darn, no marijuana. That's organic!" Canning joked. "No, seriously, I have no problem with any of those. I never intended to sell them in the first place."

The project is still pending site plan approval from Rochester's Planning Board. The special permit grant means that Canning can move forward with presenting final design and elevation plans to the Planning Board for review.

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