, Newburyport, MA

June 18, 2014

Compromise needed on farm 'fun' use

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Kimball Farm in rural east Haverhill played host to a successful KidsFEST celebration last weekend. There were no traffic problems reported from the Sunday event, which was a happy improvement over the traffic nightmare spawned by a May 31 event at the farm.

Cars backed up for miles trying to get to the East Broadway farm for the “Color Me Rad” race that day. Traffic was backed up all the way to Route 110 and Interstate 495 more than three miles away, police said. Officials have used words such as “crisis,” “disaster” and “nightmare” to describe the scene. Residents in the neighborhood could not get into or out of their driveways.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro said in a letter to the City Council that the situation was so bad, he would not support future events at Kimball Farm. In response, the council denied permits to three upcoming events planned for the farm, which were organized by the Amesbury-based Front Office Events.

The organization, which is affiliated with Amesbury Sports Park, has run numerous events in Amesbury. Many have gone off without a hitch, but some have caused the same kind of traffic headaches for Amesbury.

That decision angered Judy Kimball, longtime owner of Kimball Farm. She is considering legal action against the city.

“The city is taking away our right to get income from our property,” Kimball told reporter Shawn Regan last week. “I’m taking no more of this.”

Rather than such precipitous action as the council’s outright denial of permits for events and the threat of a legal response, perhaps the Kimballs and the council, as well as Chief DeNaro and the farm’s neighbors, can get together and work out some kind of compromise that serves everyone. The success of KidsFEST, which drew 6,000 to 8,000 participants, shows that Kimball Farm is capable of hosting events of that scale without disrupting the neighborhood. Similarly, an event last year, Foam Fest, drew 7,500 participants without any problems. The senior police officer at the event wrote that the event was well organized with no traffic problems or “rowdy” elements.

The council denied a permit for the Foam Fest event this year.”We hosted our event at Kimball Farm last year and had over 7,500 people there and had no traffic problems,” Ryan Cook, a representative of the company promoting Foam Fest said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune, sister paper of The Daily News. “It’s unfortunate that the city is considering us the same as Color me Rad when clearly our model works. It’s a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.”

These non-agricultural events are a way to keep Kimball Farm functioning. The events are being held under a pilot program with the state Department of Agricultural Resources. The Kimballs had previously sold the development rights to the farm, which has been in the family since 1820, to the state as a part of a program to preserve operating farms.

Too many farms have been lost already to development. If it takes a few of these nontraditional events each year to keep a working farm from being carved up into house lots, that seems to us a fair trade.

Clearly, no one wants a repeat of the traffic disaster associated with the Color Me Rad event. But the success of other, similarly sized events shows Kimball Farm can host them without incident. It just takes careful planning and execution. Rather than withdraw into hardened camps of opposition, we’d like to see the City Council work with one of the community’s oldest families to hash out a compromise that preserves the rights and interests of everyone. Surely that’s better for all than a bitter battle in a court of law.