This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
A more recent issue involved agricultural housing. On Oct. 22, 2010, I went to the town hall to see what the town requirements were. Just a short time earlier, I attended a roundtable discussion on the subject and knew agricultural housing existed. The town hall encounter on Oct. 22 once again personified the rude and arrogant attitude of certain offices.
Almost in unison, I was told by two individuals there was no such thing as agricultural housing. No one should be talking to me and I needed to leave. If I wanted to know about the regulations, I should see my lawyer, or I could purchase a copy of the zoning bylaws. The zoning bylaws were also available electronically. Construction of the house had to comply with all applicable requirements. Obviously, the person doing all the talking didn't know what the state statutes and town bylaws said or they would have turned directly to them and made a copy of perhaps two or three pages. Maybe they just liked being a bully, or maybe service was not a part of being a Groton public employee.
Nov. 16, 2010: I again requested a copy of the requirements for agricultural housing and, again, there was no response. Fifteen days later on Dec. 1, another request was made. Finally on Dec. 8, 2010, the Groton Building Department responded to all my inquiries originally addressed to the land use director/town planner. This 27-day delay going back to Nov. 4 was in clear violation of Massachusetts Public Records Law, which clearly states that an answer to an inquiry had to be given within 10 calendar days of the request. If an answer could not be given within the 10-day period, a written explanation had to be provided explaining why and when an answer would be given.
The Building Department's Dec. 8 letter said a house could not be built on my property for agricultural purposes because Chapter 218.5 of the Groton Code said, "Any use not specifically or generally listed herein or otherwise permitted in a district shall be deemed as prohibited." In other words, if the Groton Code doesn't say you can do something, you are automatically forbidden to do it.
My response to the Dec. 8 letter included a copy of Chapter 40A, Section 3, of the Massachusetts General Law and a memorandum from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Both documents made it absolutely clear about allowing agricultural housing.
The building department responded December 17 by stating Chapter 40A, Section 3 allowed for the construction of structures for agricultural purposes, but said nothing about agricultural housing. Maybe the building department didn't think a house was a structure. Anyway, the building department went on to dismiss the memorandum from the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources because there was no name on the memorandum. In other words, the building department was implying that I wrote the memorandum. If I were aggrieved by the decision I should retain legal counsel. So, for a third time I'm told to sue the town, but I also had the right to appeal.
I was later told by a building inspector of an abutting town that agricultural housing could not be forbidden. This was confirmed by a nontown employee who informed me that agricultural housing existed in Groton. Not only did agricultural housing exist, so did detached in-law housing and property maintenance housing, all on single house lots. The agricultural housing that I could find closest to the Mistress was on Chicopee Row.
With this information I returned to town hall with the name and address of the farm on Chicopee Row and requested a copy of the documentation. Not only was agricultural housing shown to exist on Chicopee Row, a building inspector's signature was on the documentation stating agricultural housing existed. The person who a few weeks earlier told me to leave town hall and claimed there was no such thing as agricultural housing went directly to where the information about agricultural housing on Chicopee Row was filed, made a copy of the information and handed it to me. How could such a complete about-face take place, unless they knew they had been snagged?
Knowing agricultural housing existed in Groton, I still couldn't build a house for agricultural purposes. When September 2011 rolled around I received my application to renew my Chapter 61A. By turning it in before October 1st, the Mistress' domain would be taxed at a reduced rate. I took the application to the building department and said I wouldn't be returning it to the tax assessor if I couldn't receive a permit allowing agricultural housing. I was then told about a change in the building department and someone would be in contact with me. Within a couple weeks I was told I could build a house for agricultural purposes. I continue to wonder what it was that caused the change in the building department. Maybe it had to do with its definitive source of information being flawed.