The owners of Old Homestead Farm in New Ipswich have been granted a variance to build an event pavilion on their 160-acre farm to host parties, dances, weddings and community events.
Chelsea and Ben Hatcher, owners of Old Homestead Farm on Greenville Road, appeared before the Zoning Board of Adjustment Thursday, seeking a variance to allow the event center in the town’s rural district, as a supplement to their working farm. Board members Jeff Muhonen, Walker Farrey, David Lage and Brett Kivela sat on the case, with Danielle Sikkila, Lou Alvarez and Dwayne White recusing themselves from the discussion.
The Hatchers proposed building an open-sided pavilion and fire pit, which could be used to host weddings, showers, birthdays, family celebrations, line dancing, corporate events, field trips, farmers markets, community events, graduations, dances or proms, farm-to-table meals and ice skating and sledding or tubing on the nearby hill.
Ben Hatcher explained that the property is large, and surrounded by woods that provide a buffer between the event space and neighbors. The farm is set about a half-mile back from the roadway, and the pavilion would be about a quarter-mile from the nearest neighbor.
The couple have hosted public events on their farm, including a grand opening event where they welcomed the community to come see the property that drew about 1,000 people over the course of the day, Chelsea Hatcher said. They also provided a space for a prom dance when the school did not host a prom during COVID-19, and a line dance in one of the garages currently on the property.
Ben Hatcher said the events would comply with the town’s noise ordinance, which activates at 10 p.m., but said there have never been any complaints from neighbors related to the activities they have already had.
Several neighbors spoke in favor of the proposal, with no comments opposing the idea.
“I think it’s the best thing for the neighborhood,” said abutter Steve Riggs. “We’re 100% behind it; we wish them the best of success.”
Neighbor Tim Jones said he knows the couple, and that they are “excellent neighbors.”
“We really support what they’re trying to do,” said Jones, after clarifying that the couple was not intending to hold concerts at the venue.
Al Jenks of New Ipswich said he had hosted similar events on a smaller scale as the owner of Windblown Cross Country Ski Area, and applauded the couple for putting in the time and energy needed to sustain such a business, saying it could become a positive for the community.
“The good energy spreads around,” Jenks said.
Board members, when discussing whether the proposal met the town’s criteria for granting a variance, had two main points – the remoteness of the property from neighbors and significant buffer, and the growing need for agricultural uses to be supplemented by other income.
Farrey said the proposal was “piggybacking off the allowed agricultural use.”
Lage noted that the pavilion wouldn’t be visible, and events unlikely to be audible to neighbors, due to the large size of the property and the woods surrounding it.
“I don’t know how many times you’re going to have this kind of buffer,” Lage said.
The Hatchers indicated the largest any event could be, including both guests and staff, would be 250 people. Farrey noted that Greenville Road is the main access between New Ipswich and Greenville and a highly trafficked road, and that the amount of cars for events, even multiple times a week, would not put unnecessary strain on the road.
The size of events and how many times a week they would be hosted was a small sticking point for the board. Lage initially proposed a condition allowing up to two events per week, but Kivela pushed back on that proposal, noting there were some events he did not want to put a cap on at all, such as school field trips and some community events.
Muhonen said as the board agreed the property was suitable for such events, he didn’t see a need for any kind of cap.
Ultimately, the board reached a compromise decision, limiting events over 100 people to twice a week, and limiting weddings specifically to once a week, with no other restrictions on how often events could be held.
Lage also proposed a restriction, approved by the rest of the board, that the event business be ancillary to the farming operation, and not replace it.
The board also agreed to limit the amount of people at any event to 250, and placed hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Hatchers are required to file a site plan review with the Planning Board.
The board approved the proposal, along with the conditions, in a 4-0 vote.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaarI@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.