In a standing room only room filled with angry residents on Tuesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to "upgrade" the language on the cease and desist order issued to SA Farm, 429 Whitney St., on July 15 by Building Inspector Bill Farnsworth.
The primary order of business to be voted on at the meeting was an appeal filed by SA Farm owner Santo Anza Jr. on a cease and desist order issued to 429 Whitney St. Realty Trust and SA Farm to stop composting activity.
This activity, residents argue, has been not only going on since Anza bought the property almost two years ago, but has continued without pause since the order was given. Neighbors of SA Farm have long complained that the activity at the property is a compost business that is masquerading as a "farm," allowing Anza to continue under town bylaws pertaining to agriculture.
Anza Jr. and his lawyer did not show at Tuesday night's meeting and they ultimately left a message during it to town officials that they were withdrawing their petition for appeal.
Still, the ZBA continued the public hearing, fielding numerous complaints from residents who complained of pungent stenches, noise and other activity emanating from the property at Whitney Street.
Scott Wellman of 67 Coolidge Circle pleaded that the board "fine Anza to the maximum, and not reverse the cease and desist order."
"First of all, this smell was never in the neighborhood before," said Wellman. "I've lived here for 30 years and it never came about until the garbage trucks started coming to that property. It seems to be the epicenter of that odor."
Many neighbors echoed his concerns, frustrated, they say, that the town and board did not do enough, did not act sooner. Many held pictures and emailed complaints that had been sent to the town officials as well as the Department of Environmental Protection.
Gina Babcock of Coolidge Circle, who has helped corral many of the complaints and evidence from other neighbors, said, "As many as six trucks a day go in there. I call the police when I hear them and say, 'Go get 'em. Catch the bad guys.' We all see him doing this. Steam is rising from the mounds of garbage that you people called a farm in March. Do you know the definition of agriculture? I think everybody here does. We learned it fast and hard. You didn't do your due diligence. This is commercial. He's making soil. He's composting and he's selling it."
Attorney Mark Lanza, who represents some of the residents in the case against Anza, added that the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture did not renew Anza's registration.
"The use of this property is not for agriculture," he said. "It's a solid waste landfill. That's a highly regulated activity. The DEP is heavily involved and I predict they will issue an order that he ceases activity."
Building Inspector Farnsworth expresses frustration with the legal system and the inability to enforce the cease and desist order.
According to the town's bylaws, a fine of up to $300 per day can be issued per offense.
The ZBA was in agreement that the composting should not only stop, but that the landfill that has been brought in should be removed, as evidence, they say, supports it hasn't been leveled off as Anza promised.
"There is no way to separate what has been brought in since July 15," said board member Mark Rutan. "The original intention was that we wanted to stop the fill, and at the time the fill was rock and dirt, and for it to be moved around to however he saw fit to make his property useful. Instead, he's brought in composting and stench and put the health of the people in the area in peril. The organic material has to be removed. I feel we have been baited and switched, and he's clearly changed his plan."
After some debate, members of the zoning board decided to defer to town counsel and Town Planner Kathy Joubert to construct a reworded cease and desist order that will also insist that the landfill be removed by a professional contractor. The order will require that the town take legal action and call for a temporary injunction.
The ZBA will meet on Sept. 6 at 8 a.m. at the Town Hall to confirm the "upgraded" cease and desist order. The meeting is open to the public.