SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 1, 2013

Council sued over vote on farm stand

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — You may yet have a place to get fresh cucumbers and tomatoes on Lynn Street.

In July, the City Council turned down a request for a special permit to allow a farm stand at 176 Lynn St. Now, James Pica and Leonard Coffill, trustees of the property, are suing. The pair are asking the Superior Court to order a new hearing, a re-vote and relief from the earlier rejection. They offer a blunt assessment of the original decision not to grant the special permit, describing it as “unsupported by the evidence ... legally untenable ... whimsical, arbitrary and capricious ... unlawful.”

The council voted the farm stand down on a 4 to 6 vote, with Anne Manning-Martin, Dave Gravel, Jim Liacos and Rico Mello in favor; Barry Osborne, Tom Gould, Mike Garabedian, Arthur Athas, Dave Gamache and Bob Driscoll opposed.

In addition to the special permit for a farm stand or retail store, the trustees describe an accompanying beer and wine license and the construction of a greenhouse to the rear of the property. Lawyer Jack Keilty told the council that the greenhouse would grow flowers. The 2.5 acres of property previously housed a Richdale convenience store. The legal brief argues that the council’s ruling contradicts a state law that forbids unreasonable regulation on properties used for commercial agriculture.

The original council hearing drew several neighbors raising objections to the proposal, including the owner of a nearby store who questioned the need for the farm stand. Others worried about traffic.

“There is a parking issue down there,” said resident Russ Donovan, a current candidate for at-large councilor. “Cars, I know, are parking on the sidewalk.”

Some councilors worried that the farm stand would soon become a convenience store selling alcohol.

Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne registered his opposition. “It doesn’t fit into the neighborhood,” he said, adding that this sounded more like a package store. “I have no problem with a farm stand.”

Manning-Martin speculated yesterday that Osborne’s opposition as ward councilor carried a lot of weight with his colleagues.

“I felt the farm stand with beer and wine would be a nice addition to the neighborhood,” she said.

Reacting to the lawsuit, Gravel saw a silver lining. The farm stand, he said, “is an interesting concept. What I was hoping for was the reconfiguration of the traffic.”

He expressed disappointment that the trustees hadn’t withdrawn their project and plotted ways to ease the traffic and parking problems.

By bringing the matter back to the council, Gravel indicated, it could provide an opportunity to deal with problems of parking and traffic created by a new store.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.