Brewster Health Board Closes Great Cape Herbs, Citing Multiple Health, Safety Violations

By: Bronwen Walsh

Great Cape Herbs was shut down by the town due to numerous health and safety violations dating back months. BRONWEN WALSH PHOTO

BREWSTER – The Great Cape Herbs storefront, arboretum and gardens owned and operated by Stephen Brown at 2624-2628 Main St./Route 6A has been shut down by the town for numerous health and safety violations.

“The known violations at the property are extensive, and many present immediate life safety concerns for the inhabitants,” the town wrote in a Sept. 9 cease and desist order. The violations were issued jointly by the building commissioner, board of health and fire department.

Nine violations first identified by the town on April 29 continue to exist, the order said, including no permits for building, wiring, stove or plumbing or for the chickens and roosters on the property, also known as Great Cape Tiny Village.

“We received a complaint about the property in February,” Town Administrator Peter Lombardi said by phone Tuesday. “May 2 was the date of the first enforcement letter. There’s several dozen violations in total. We thought it was important, given the scale and complexity of the violations, to take a coordinated approach.”

Brown was ordered to cease living in or renting two upstairs residential dwellings at Burgess House, his residence, and another in a gray cottage onsite, and to hire licensed contractors to make required repairs throughout his 15-acre property.

Described as an “arboretum cottage” and “herbal apothecary,” the property listed accommodations for $125 to $145 daily, $800 to $1,000 weekly or $3,200 monthly on www.weneedavacation.com.

Two vehicles and two of four camping units onsite are unregistered and in violation of the town’s septic disposal and sanitary drainage requirements, the order said.

In addition, the town revoked Brown’s controlled burning permit “because you have not provided sufficient evidence to prove that your use of the property constitutes commercial agriculture,” according to the order.

The order also instructed Brown to remove a sign unauthorized by the Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee that reads, “We are so sorry! Gardens are temporarily close to the public. You can thank Brewster town officials.”

Brown was given 30 days to comply and 45 days to appeal. He is currently visiting the Portuguese Azores and due back this week, according to “Farmer Greg,” a caretaker of the property.

Brown posted online comments about “the forced closing” at www.gctv.cc and is seeking donations to help pay contractors and anticipated legal fees. He said he pays his taxes and has an occupancy permit for his home, which, along with his shop, is served by a Title V septic system installed around 2014.
He refuted operating a campground on the property and owning the chickens. Two signs onsite identify the property as a Farm Bureau member.

“I have owned and operated a ‘farm’ since the day I opened Eastleigh Nurseries in the spring of 1973, after having been granted a variance by the town of Brewster appeals board to own and operate a nursery anywhere on the property,” Brown wrote. “The property has operated as a farm continuously for 49 years and four months. We have a vineyard, orchards, berry patches, medicinal plant gardens, and an arboretum. What is not a farm activity?!?”
The online store remains open but carries a message that “Great Cape Herbs is currently under reconstruction to a Private Membership Association.”

Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters remains open in the adjacent building; however, the doorway to Great Cape Herbs is closed, and draped rope blocks the entrance to the arboretum grounds.

As of The Chronicle’s print deadline, Brown was unavailable for comment.

David Schlesinger of Brewster on Monday returned a call on Brown’s behalf, saying he and Brown incorporated the Great Cape Co-op, LLC last week and are “actively pursuing buying the property” from Brown.

“That would be a private transaction,” Lombardi said, adding that, to date, there has been no communication with town departments over a proposed sale.

“We’ve been working with the property owner for the past eight-plus months to identify all of the issues,” Lombardi said. “We’re hopeful that he’s responsive. We’re prepared to move forward” unless Brown can “show progress…and present the town with a plan” to address the violations.

Brown is due back from Portugal Thursday (Sept. 22). Schlesinger said they plan a tented event on the property for 2 p.m. Saturday and invite the public to stop by.