HARWICH — Abutters are pushing to see how resilient The Resilient Family Farm will be in a residential
neighborhood off Chatham Road.
Several neighbors were before the conservation commission last week complaining about the intensity of farm use and charging the town dropped the ball in allowing the commercial farm to plant roots in their neighborhood.
“We have already experienced, at times, palpable levels of intrusive noise and noxious odor from the currently curtailed operation,” stated a letter from the Chatham Road Concerned Citizens signed by 10 residents from Chatham Road and Lover's Lane last week.
Chatham Road resident Tony Ciucci said while he embraces sustainability, but he is concerned about the amount of livestock on such a small piece of land. He cited noise from cows and roosters and expressed concern for impacts on the abutting wetlands and vernal pool.
“I don't want a silent spring at Paddock's Pond,” Ciucci said. “I've been listening to peepers there for 21 years. I'm delighted to live here. This is a very special place. Now I have dairy herds in my back yard. Harwich might be farm friendly, but let's not be farm foolish.”
Farm owner Barry Viprino and his attorney, Benjamin Zehnder, were before the commission last Wednesday to discuss progress on several issues relating to the farming activities on the 9.4-acre property adjacent to wetlands that extend to Paddock Pond.
The commission agreed to lift a stop work order issued to Viprino a few months ago for work being conducted within the 100-foot buffer zone to the wetlands. The order was lifted with the understanding that no work would be conducted within the buffer zone.
The commission had been pushing to have a farm plan approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which provides technical expertise and conservation planning for local farmers. Zehnder had emphasized that the agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will not act on plan when a stop work order is in place.
There are several issues in need of resolution between the commission and Viprino. One is the need to determine whether the site is considered a commercial farm. Before Viprino purchased the property it had a residential stable license to board a couple of horses. When he began expanding farm activity trees were cut within the wetland buffer zone, livestock fencing and a hoop house were installed on the property. Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski said she met with town counsel and was told those improvements are not agriculturally exempt. Zehnder said he and the conservation administrator have also been working with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the state Department of Environmental Protection on these determinations.
If it is determined not to be a commercial farm, an after-the fact notice of intent would be required seeking commission approval for the actions taken in the buffer zone, and a new notice of intent would have to be filed to allow an aquaponics center to be located inside the buffer zone.
The increased activity at the farm, which included more than 200 turkeys, cows, pigs, goats, rabbits and quail, have the neighbors concerned.
“This is not, fundamentally, a farming operation based on land and soil, growing crops, where the scope and nature of the environmental impact is directly constrained as a function of tillable acreage,” stated the Chatham Road Concerned Citizens letter. “This is an 'industrial' model, described in terms of capital inputs/outputs, and where there are few organic limitations to the potential expansion and operation of the enterprise.”
The letter cites the large livestock population and questions whether it is an acceptable use within a residential zone and an environmentally sensitive area, adding it would be more appropriately located in an industrial/agricultural zone.
Zehnder pointed out the residents of Harwich have voted the town a “farm friendly” community.
Lover's Lane resident Annalise Mecham said she hears cows wailing and turkeys all morning long and she has called the police. She told of coming across a plucked chicken when taking her children to the school bus.
“I never thought this would be part of our residential neighborhood,” Mecham said. “Health issues are a concern here.”
Marina Brock, a senior environmentalist with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, who lives near Paddock's Pond, said agriculture is great, but she questioned the level of intensity at the site. Brock said she has a master's degree in hydrogeology and geochemistry and has done a lot of work with nitrogen loading. She hasn't seen any evidence of a composting facility there. She also said urine from that many animals is
incredibly difficult to capture.
“The site is too small for the intensity proposed,” Brock said.
“I don't understand how Harwich dropped the ball on this,” Lover's Lane resident Paula Rodriques said. “When we built our house the conservation commission was all over us. I can't even put up a shed. The whole town dropped the ball.”
“I didn't know about this until mid-August. You can't see it from the road,” Usowski responded. “I won't speak for the building and health departments. When I found out I put a stop work order in place.”
Zehnder said the neighbors have made it awful for the Viprinos. “It's bordering on harassment,” he said, citing a number of calls to the police department.
“Those words are unacceptable,” Ciucci responded. “Harassment is a word I take very seriously.”
Usowski said she wants to keep the process moving and have a request for determination hearing within 30 days of Dec. 22. She also requested an update on the status of a farm plan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Zehnder agreed to the request, but also pointed out if the decision in the RDA hearing is the farm is not commercial, they would be appealing it. He said if that's the case, he hoped the commission would not be “tough skinned” on the subsequent notice of intent filings.