Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interpreting Agricultural Use Restrictions

This time of year brings back fond memories of Sunday afternoon family drives to Westford to visit Drew Farms for bags of freshly picked apples. Unfortunately, Drew ceased operations as an apple orchard many years ago and the property has changed hands several times. Along the way, an agricultural restriction was placed on the property to keep it as an agricultural use and prevent its commercial development.

Subsequent owners have been unable to return the property to a productive, agricultural use, so it has fallen into decline. The most recent owner has proposed building a 19,000 square foot, 311 seat restaurant on the site along with 110 parking spaces. His response to the agricultural restriction is that the rest of the parcel will revert to farming, and that the produce from the farm will be cooked and served in the restaurant which, he argues, makes it an agricultural use.

The Globe first wrote about this novel approach back on September 3, 2016, documenting the struggle facing the selectmen in the town over honoring the spirit of the restriction and rejecting the proposal, or giving it an expansive interpretation that would get the lot cleaned up. That same article cited the dismay being experienced by regional proponents of land use restrictions at what they saw as a precedent-setting disregard for a valid restriction.

In another article in today's edition, the Globe reports that the opponents of the restaurant proposal got a key ally when the state's agricultural commissioner, John Lebeaux, decided that the proposed restaurant was not an acceptable agricultural use.

I find this a very interesting case study in land use restrictions. Does "forever" really mean that, or is it a term that carries some flexibility based on changing circumstances?

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