WEST NEWBURY — Long Hill Farm may be in jeopardy of losing critical revenue unless it can obtain the necessary permitting to allow a nonprofit model airplane club to continue to lease part of the farmland.
Farm owners John and Cindy Adams are in violation of both the town’s zoning bylaws and a stipulation in the state Agricultural Preservation Restriction law for allowing Cape Ann RC Model Airplane Club to use land that currently receives state tax exemptions for agricultural purposes, Town Counsel Michael McCarron told selectmen last week.
While McCarron did not say the use was illegal, he said the landowners never got permission for the activity from local and state officials, which is legally required before undertaking any non-farming activity on their property.
Selectmen agreed to issue a letter notifying the owners that they appear to be in violation of the laws and demanding that they “cease and desist” until they secure a special permit for the club’s activity.
But at the request of Cindy Adams, who could not attend last week’s meeting, they delayed further discussion of the issue until after the new year. The board’s next meeting is Jan. 9 in the first-floor hearing room of the 1910 Town Office Building.
The model airplane club has been operating on Long Hill Farm’s land for 18 years, according to information Adams provided to building inspector Glenn Clohecy.
However, a Bridge Street resident recently filed a formal complaint about noise generated on the weekends by the 5- to 6-foot planes that fly in the area of his home.
“According to the club website, there are plans to expand the runway on Long Hill Orchard, which I imagine will bring with it even more noise,” wrote Stephen Shepard in a letter to selectmen dated Dec. 10. He questioned whether the operation was allowable.
Adams has said she does not want to disturb her neighbors and is amenable to finding a solution to keep peace in the neighborhood,
She indicated she was told by the state that the activity qualified as “agri-tourism,” a permissible stipulation in the state law that allows use of farmland for non-farming activities that support the overall operation of the property. One example of this type of exception is haunted hayrides offered by farms at Halloween time, McCarron said.
He was uncertain whether the airplane club would fall under this type of category, but advised the board that even if the use is permissible, the farmers are still legally required to get approval from both local and state officials before the non-farming usage can occur. Because they haven’t, they must be considered in violation of the law, McCarron said.
In a legal opinion provided to selectmen, McCarron said, “Even if the club were to claim that the use of the premises for model airplanes was consistent with the agricultural use, the restriction requires the club to apply to the commissioner and the town for permission for such use. It should be noted that such permission is a prerequisite to applying for a special permit from the Planning Board.”
Long Hill Farm is located in the Residence A and Residence B zoning districts, McCarron said. While the initial determination of zoning lies with the building inspector, McCarron felt that “under the most liberal reading” of the zoning bylaws, leasing land to the airplane club could be allowed with a special permit.
The Planning Board votes on special permits after conducting a formal hearing, to which all abutters are invited to attend. But before the planners can grant a special use, the applicant must first get permission from selectmen, the Conservation Commission and the state commissioner of Food and Agriculture to use a portion of land for a purpose other than farming. This is because in an effort to preserve farms, agriculture and natural resources, the state gives a tax break to landowners who commit to restricting use of their land to only these purposes.
According to the state APR law, “No use shall be made of the premises and no activity thereon shall be permitted which is or may be inconsistent with the intent of this grant, being the perpetual protection and preservation of agricultural lands.”