Herb Shop Reopens, Zoning Violation Hearing Set For Dec. 13

By: Bronwen Walsh

Great Cape Herbs. FILE PHOTO

BREWSTER – Stephen Brown, owner of Great Cape Herb Shop and Arboretum, and four associates visited the town planning office Monday in hopes of setting the record straight on the eve of his 50th anniversary of living here.

The health and safety violations contained in a September cease and desist order issued jointly by the building, health and fire departments did not apply to the herb shop, which has reopened, Brown said. Building Inspector Davis Walters never visited the herb shop.

Nevertheless, as a result of a two-month shutdown of the shop and two onsite short-term rental units located above his Burgess House home, Brown estimated he has lost between $500 and $1,000 a day in income. Two employees are on unemployment, and he said he feels he’s the target of what he called an outrageous witch hunt.

“They showed up here in five vehicles with no list of violations,” said Brown, who will soon turn 77. “We have made a concerted effort to please this town, but they’re moving the goalposts on us. It’s a racket. The main recommendation is to hire people to do the work. It’s about money.”

Brown, who is appealing the cease and desist order, is scheduled to appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Dec. 13.

According to the town’s Sept. 9 cease and desist order, nine violations first identified on April 29 continue to exist, including no permits for building, wiring or plumbing work. “The known violations at the property are extensive, and many present immediate life safety concerns for the inhabitants,” the order reads.

“We cleaned out the basement of Burgess House,” Brown said. At a site visit earlier this month, “they seemed pleased with our progress.” But the property is in three different zones, and “we’ve had the same conversation for a year and a half of back and forth. They are reaching for violations. The regulations are cord after cord of tangle.”

Brown said he installed a $45,000 septic system to support his entire 15-acre property. “There have never been any septic violations” pertaining to his business, he said.

“I have experienced repetitive and continuous targeted and prejudicial harassment and unfounded legal and commercial attacks that have caused financial harm,” he wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to the town.

Friends of Brown have formed an organic agriculture cooperative designed to ensure the land stays undeveloped and in the hands of the people.

“I’m trying to sell this property to the cooperative for $3.5 million,” he said. “This is my legacy. The coop is a sustainable business model. This is all local business — organic agriculture. We grow grapes, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, and medicinal plants.”

“He sells it, those gardens — gone,” said Tina, a cooperative member who asked that her last name not be used.

Town Planner Jon Idman denied Brown’s request to record their one-hour meeting Monday at town hall.

“There is no binding determination here,” Idman said. “It’s a discussion about the goals for the property, not a court proceeding. There are code considerations. The building code has changed over the last 30 to 40 years. There’s actually disagreement over whether you got a permit to have dwelling units” on the property.

At the same time, Idman said, “you’re raising issues that are totally fair. It's time to change Brewster zoning laws.”

New hours at Great Cape Herbs are Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and online orders remain available. The shop is located at 2624 Main St., adjacent to Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters, which was not impacted by the order.