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Readville farm cites shadows in suing over three houses approved next door

The owners of a "microgreens" farm on Norton Street in Readville yesterday sued the Zoning Board of Appeal and the developer it gave permission to build three houses on a lot next door, saying shadows from the houses would reduce the amount of light hitting their greenhouse, where they do the bulk of their farming.

In a suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, We Grow Microgreens also says the three houses on a roughly 20,000-square-foot lot would also violate the low-density nature of Boston's southernmost neighborhood, as enshrined in the city zoning code and that the board failed to cite any hardships that would have allowed the variances the proposal got. The farm is asking a judge to annul the board approval and bar ISD from issuing any building permits for the proposed houses.

At a hearing last month, the zoning board approved plans by Falcucci Properties to replace a condemned single-family house with three new single-family homes with two-car garages and a shared driveway at 13, 15, and 17 Norton St. - with a proviso that the developer eliminate proposed attics as a way of dropping the buildings' heights and further reducing the potential shadow impact on the microfarm. Falcucci had originally proposed a single building with seven townhouses.

The farm is located at 21 Norton St., but now also owns the house at 19 Norton St., which it rents out, except for the backyard, which it uses for growing things.

The farm opened in 2019 on what had long been a vacant 30,000-square-foot city-owned lot that the Department of Neighborhood Development sold to Lisa Evans and Tim Smith of Roslindale as part of an effort to encourage urban agriculture. The two harvest vegetables not long after their seeds germinate, saying these "microgreens" are particularly rich in nutrients.

At the hearing, Evans argued that shadows during the winter would particularly hurt plant growth in the winter, when the greenhouse needs all the sunlight it can get during the season's short days. In the farm's legal complaint, it argues the shadows would also reduce the yield from the translucent solar panels it has mounted atop the greenhouse, driving up the farm's energy costs and cutting into its commitment to use as little carbon-based energy as possible.

Falcucci attorney Jeff Drago gave the board shadow maps, drawn up by Falcucci architect Arthur Choo, showing minimal to no shadow impact from the three buildings, especially since Falcucci would put the proposed houses 55 feet away from the farm lot line. He added the buildings would be below the 35-foot maximum height allowed for houses in the area.

We Grown Microgreens countered with their own study, by Rafi Segal, an MIT architecture professor - who worked on shadow studies involving controversial shadows on the Public Garden and the Common. Segal, whose services the farm paid $8,000 for, said that, in fact, the buildings - which he said would be slightly higher than the allowed height at their peaks - would cast shadows on the greenhouse at differing times throughout the year.

The mayor's office and the offices of City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Michael Flaherty backed the housing proposal, saying it would bring more housing to the neighborhood and that Falcucci had shown a willingness to work with neighbors. An aide to acting Mayor Kim Janey also cited "positive feedback" from the Readville Neighborhood Watch. Craig Martin, a member of the civic group, however, said no such feedback came from the group, which he said wants to do everything it can to support "the oasis" that We Grow Microgreens has become.

Board member Eric Robinson, himself an architect, said it appeared that, if anything, 19 Norton St., the house owned by the farm, casts more of a shadow on the greenhouse than the three new houses would. Still, the board approved a motion by member Joe Ruggiero that when the buildings go through their required "design review" by the BPDA, that all three have their attics removed from plans.

The board also required Falcucci to stick to its promise to dig catch basins to keep runoff from the site getting onto the farmland - and asked Drago to ensure that condo documents for the property note that it is next to a farm - so that residents don't one day start complaining to the city about life next to a farm, even if the farm was there first.

Watch the zoning-board hearing:

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Comments

Grifters and NIMBYs, of course. I wonder if they used some of the $100k they snagged from the city for their farm to pay the lawyer?

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Sounds like you haven’t been to the farm.
It’s beautiful, and clearly an enormous amount of time, labor and money went it to it.
It’s an asset to the community.
Your cynical attitude however
Is not.
Readville has a tradition of food gardens.
Growing food is both healthy and historic.
The farm helps that history go forward.

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46

I know, I know, it's super trendy to grow food where you live in the city. Sustainable, blah blah blah.

But it's not. Not when we could use that land to efficiently house people close to their jobs, their schools, their shops, etc. Instead, we've got a situation where three families should go live in the burbs so somebody in Boston can grow food.

Makes no sense. Cities are for people. Rural areas are for crops and livestock.

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37

Food, like shelter, is a human right, and growing food in an area where it can be easily and quickly distributed to the people who need it is both valuable to the community and to the environment.

Growing food miles and miles from where it is consumed requires significantly greater transportation costs.

City farming creates jobs, brings communities closer, and reduces environmental impact of agriculture.

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39

There is no realistic scenario where some emergency or condition requires the food from this greenhouse but isn't available from a regional supply chain.

Growing food miles and miles from where it is consumed requires greater transportation costs, but forcing people to live in the burbs and commute every day requires substantially MORE transportation costs.

All farming creates jobs, and brings communities closer. But city farming INCREASES environmental impact of agriculture because it's so damn inefficient. It also increases the environmental impact of development of homes because it replaces urban smaller, low-transit homes with suburban larger, higher-transportation homes.

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19

It's not people in bluejeans with pigs and cows and giant troughs and milking machines and barns and vast pig-waste lagoons. It's basically a greenhouse. Greenhouses can fit pretty much anywhere.

You also don't know anything about the lot in question or the neighborhood. It had been a vacant piece of land for like 20 years, in a neighborhood that consists almost entirely of single-family homes - and which, in fact, is zoned specifically for single-family homes (there are apartments in Readville, and hundreds more are in the works, so, no, it's not like Readville is not shouldering what I'm sure you consider its burden, but they are on the other side of the train tracks from the part of Readville where the greenhouse is).

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how is an urban farm forcing people to move to the suburbs? that scarecrow might hold up if they'd torn down a 100-unit apartment building to build the farm but they didnt.

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The idea here is that people would prefer to live in the city, or at least close to public transportation, but they can't, because we don't allow enough housing to be built in those places, so instead they are forced to "drive 'till they qualify" and this means most new homes are being built further and further out, necessitating longer and longer drives to access basic services. No, there are no apartments being removed to build this farm, but preventing apartments from being built here (a short walk from the Readville train station) means people will inevitably be forced to live further away from transit.

I hate to tell them that Hyde Park is in Boston, a city. It is time to act like it.

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As you, say this is a city, where space is shared judiciously. This isn’t a frontier on Mars.

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So why do my taxes go to paying for street cleaning when the streets just get more trash. Why wasted money cleaning streets when they just get trashed again? It's a city.

Burglaries happen more in a city. So why waste money trying to catch burglars? Just accept that we live in a city and more houses will be burgled.

Gosh all that noise people complain about. It's a city; there will be noise. Stop whining and just accept that boom-boom cars, car horns and illegal fitted motorcycles wake up babies and create lots of noise pollution. It's a city.

Pollution! Imagine how much money would be saved if industry did not have to team down on how much air pollution they generate? How many good paying blue collar jobs have disappeared because gosh darn regulations tell steel industry to stop making so much air pollution (they stopped making here and just make it in other countries).

Gosh darn it. An industrial world has air pollution. Don't want the benefits of an industrial world? Cheaper goods, cheaper cars, lower building costs? Then go live on Mars!

Man, it is so tiring that people expect some kind of quality of life when there are so many reasons why quality of life costs so much!

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Expensive homes with two car garages are not.

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Exactly. Getting sick and tired of the hysterical anti-NIMBY brats who can’t stand it that city residents might actually (gasp!) have the audacity to grow their own food. Or, may prefer to have trees on their street and parks for a little fresh air, peace and recreation. Such horror that city residents defend a little bit of quality of life where they live and pay taxes.

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You can think that, but if you're a city taxpayer you'd want the nice house. They pay a lot more in property taxes.

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But sure, let’s just not build any more dwelling units in Boston. Eventually we can convert what used to be housing into farmland, just like they’re doing in Detroit.

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Not a homeowner. Developers have been angling for years to get hold of my and my fellow gardeners’ community garden plots in probably one of the most fertile and productive community gardens in Boston.
I know firsthand the value of being able to grow your own food and maintain a green space in a city despite the land grab mentality of greedy barracudas in suits.

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25

You are not opposing the conversion farmland to housing. You are opposing the conversion of a lot that holds a single family house to a lot with three single family houses, all because, well, cars are bad?

It’d also bet the new homeowners will have enough land left over to plant a vegetable garden.

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You are clueless.

N/t

You are clueless.

If the farm wins, can the adjacent owner sue the farm for the decline in property value?

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17

… if your scratch ticket only wins you a few hundred not a thousand? Seems just as fair.
Speculators need to factor in for potential losses. The financial stuff covers that sufficiently. If not. they are twice losers.

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According to the basic rule of supply and demand increasing supply should actually result in lower property values. So it makes more sense for anyone else the neighborhood to sue the developer for wanting to create a condition that can result in lowering the property values.

Green space, open space, a farm where only vegetables are grown are an asset, not a deficit. That supports a valuable city asset: open space, even when the open space is private. Reducing open space can decrease the value of other properties.

As the real estate going, the three most important things about property values are location, location and location. A dense residential area versus a area with lots of open space? Why is JP so valuable right now? Perhaps because it has a combination of better public transportation (not saying good) than where public transportation is even lessor, AND, is surrounded by vast sections of park land.

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$137k in 'public preservation funding' for a private business.

https://www.producegrower.com/article/urban-farm-hyde-park-boston-microg...

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to create a public path to mitigate stormwater runoff and connect neighbors to the site

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They’re connecting to the neighbors alright. By suing them.

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who owns some empty lots next door really a "neighbor"? More of an abutter to me.

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Developers build houses. Houses that neighbors live in.

you agree that developers are in fact not neighbors.

I would define neighbors as anyone who owns OR occupies something in my neighborhood.

Therefore there is no suit against neighbors here. Please offer a red herring argument elsewhere.

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Love my faceless corporate developer neighbor.

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Start by documenting how much of that urban agriculture microgreens is landing in the stomachs of families who are going to tood pantries for cans of processed sodium rich soups and canned mechanically separated chicken in water. Then I'll think about it.

If you haven’t, acquaint yourself with HIP.
Also, it doesn’t sound like you’ve ever even been to a food pantry.

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Last I'd heard of, photovoltaic panels that just skimmed off some of the light and let the rest through to the plants had only progressed to the lab proof of concept. The idea was that you could harvest the green light and let the blue and red light through, which is all the plants actually use.

Looks like this tech is actually different, though: It uses a fluorescent layer that converts green light to red, which increases the overall light energy available to the plants -- but then also overlays narrow photovoltaic strips to harvest some of the light. The net photosynthetically available radiation is apparently higher than for just clear glass.

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If any of you had any idea of what these two bootstrapping farmers have had to go through with the City of Boston and their neighbors to get this farm permitted, you would shut your mouths. Local family brings jobs, fresh food, training, youth engagment, activation to a vacant site filled with tires and shopping carts and now this? After all they have worked for, the Abutter should truly just find some ehtics and walk away. I know they have their rights, but the history behind this farm operation goes on for years and years and years. For once, Craig Martin is the hero here.

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If Microgreens wants to control someone elses property they should buy it. This is a city in the midst of a housing crisis. I am unaware of any farming crisis this is part of why incompatible land uses, like farming, are kept out of residential areas.

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… by developers plotting townhouses with two car garages. Get real.

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Building 3 new houses, with a net gain of two, doesn’t help address housing needs?

You may need a refresher course in math, and an intro economics class while you are at it.

Is it? Or is it just rounding error?

If people were trying to block developers from turning one house into three in every lot around the city, you might have a point. If people were trying to block turning developers from turning one house into three in order to preserve nothing but a view, you might have a point. Neither of these things are true. You're caping real hard and snarking even worse over the addition of two homes, total, and it means the loss of something that has some value.

Someone is trying to increasing housing stock in Boston (which you might not be aware of, but it's kind of an issue in the Greater Boston area) while a neighbor is trying to block. I've seen a lot of cases where neighbors block new housing "just because." While I wasn't as upset as some commenters on this website were with the deal that allowed the greenhouse and assorted other uses on the neighbor's lot, and to a large extent I still think it's a good idea, now they are basically saying "we've got ours, so no one else gets anything." Think of that proposal over in Dorchester that Adam was writing about a few days ago. I look at all of these things the same way. If there is a valid argument for not building housing, I'll listen to it, but this is a case where in the greater scheme of things the greenhouse just got started, and their own buildings will also cast shadows.

Long story short, the greenhouse got a lot of favors, and now they are being NIMBY neighbors. I doubt that anything being built on the lot will appease them, as the developer has already tried to work with them to no avail.

I'm not sure whether the law allows the more "deserving" plaintiff to win. I see your points about the farm getting a good share of allowances. I think it is more interesting to show the overall caprice of board's decisions.

I chimed in at first because Lee was essentially objecting to the 3 houses basically because they included parking in the proposal. That is a fairly inane reason to oppose new housing 9 miles from downtown.

But as you say, there are reasons people have issue with any kind of development, but some reasons are basically anti-development.

But this isn't exactly an isolated incident. All over the city we've got people arguing that their lot deserves to be protected from shadows because it is somehow special and because building just one or two housing units right here won't solve the housing crisis. When every single project has to run the risk that the person next door will be able to convince a judge that their already-permitted project needs to be redesigned to solve the shadow problem, it starts to make housing everywhere really expensive to build!

So they could control it and keep it from being turned into a denser project - the house next door whose backyard they are now using (if you read the complaint, you'll see there are technically two plaintiffs - We Grow Microgreens and the separate LLC the farm owners set up to buy the house). So don't blame them for not trying or for the fact that they have two neighbors, not one.

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It's more like attic or farm.

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