EM residents question Whitewing case status

Debate over future of Poplar Tree road house

By Karen Cresta, Staff Writer, The Times


East Marlborough residents expressed concerns about the status of an ongoing dispute between the township and the Inn at Whitewing Farms over holding weddings and other events on the property.

EAST MARLBOROUGH – Monday night’s township Board of Supervisors’ meeting focused on the future of Whitewing Farm at 370 Valley Road and the historical home at 101 Poplar Tree Road in the Unionville Village Historical District.

The township meeting began by hearing public comments from residents over their three-year angst regarding the allowance of special events at the Inn at Whitewing Farm Bed and Breakfast owned by Lance and Sandra Shortt since 2012. Private events ceased last year while the hopes of a compromise between the Shortts’s attorney and the township went to mediation. The township ordinance does not allow large events in residential neighborhoods.

Some residents spoke about their disappointment with the recent mediation meeting with the Shortts, their attorney, Ronald Agulnick, and Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle Friedman. One resident said that he “found the judge was a little less than impartial” and “seemed to be coming across as more for the Shortts.”

Residents were concerned that if the case went to court that the township would have to change the ordinance and that anyone with a barn could hold weddings and large, noisy events. They wanted to know if the township still had a strong case in this matter.

Township solicitor Frone Crawford told the residents that there is never a guarantee and the township would not have any control under the zoning ordinance if large events are permissible – but would have control under the nuisance ordinance.

Crawford stated, “My opinion as solicitor has not changed. We have the right position and we will prevail.”

Crawford continued by mentioning he has not seen such unanimity and intensity of residents with a zoning issue and the board encouraged them to stand together and submit their comments in writing so that they may be catalogued by March 12.

We want to hear what residents have to say,” said chairman Richard Hannum.

Another home that sits at the corner of Wollaston and Poplar Tree roads at the very edge of the historic district also caused much controversy and a large chunk of the meeting was spent hearing the opposing sides of the home on 1.78 acres.

The Historic Commission and HARB (Historic and Architectural Review Board) were at opposing opinions. The Historic Commission, giving the nod for the demolition and allowing a new home to be built as long as it kept the architectural integrity of the village, did not agree with HARB’s stance that it was not willing to lose the historical home – but willing to allow for an additional home to be built on the lot if the current one was renovated.

Bob Norris, the owner of the home, sought the advice of the board on how he should proceed as he was gridlocked and the home remained vacant. At one point, it was suggested by Norris to put three new homes on the 1.78 acres but changed that plan after meeting opposition. Norris stated that he was willing to restore the home and build an additional 2400 square foot house but needed to know what direction he should take.

“The home is in very rough shape,” Norris told the board. He paid $110,000 when he bought the property and has put about another $135,000 into it.

The chair of the Historic Commission, John Rosencrans, spoke on behalf of the poor condition of the home and how it was improperly constructed with four different additions.

“If you wanted to save the house, its condition, size, and design make it economically not feasible. It’s a money pit,” Rosencrans said.

In contradiction, Patricia Montague of HARB said, “For us to tear down a home simply because someone wants to make money is wrong. Does the house need work? Yes. Nearly every home in Unionville needs work of some kind.”

The board decided to tour the home to see the condition of it firsthand before proceeding and will be doing so on March 14 before approving a variance to build a new home or to consider demolition.

“I’m just looking for direction here,” Norris said.

In other township news, Jim Hatfield, the township engineer, presented to the board for approval the bids to complete Phase II (and final phase) of the Unionville Park. This phase includes a tot lot with a small playground, a comfort station with a pavilion that includes rest rooms, additional parking, the completion of the walking path, crosswalks, sidewalks, wetland crossing, and landscaping.

The total cost is a little over $1 million of which the township got $368,972 in grant money as reimbursement. The board is expecting substantial savings for the work in Phase II and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder, Lechmanik, Inc., at $626,673. The work is expected to begin in a few months and completed by fall.

Also approved by the board were road closures for two repeat races – Barbaro Fund for Exellence at the New Bolten Center to be held on May 7 and Tough Mudder to be held on May 21-22.

The final plan for Walnut Walk townhouses was approved and the temporary patches (and a pothole) on Walnut Road expected to be permanently patched in a few months.

To view meeting dates, times and minutes, please view the township’s new website at www.eastmarlborough.org.

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