2015-02-27 / Front Page

Trust listens to land use ideas

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

A group of Scarborough residents sat around tables in Wentworth School’s cafeteria Tuesday with oversized sheets of paper and colorful markers. The group, however, was not made up of intermediate students, but rather residents brain storming ways the Scarborough Land Trust could use Benjamin Farm, a 135-acre piece of property the land trust acquired late last year.

The property, which is located on Pleasant Hill Road, was most recently used by Jerrerd Benjamin, for raising cattle and haying.

“This is not a decision making forum. Every idea is forwarded to the board,” said Susan deGrandpre, a former longtime resident who owns Collaboration Consulting and facilitated the meeting. “All of this will go back to the board, so they will have a chance to review what each individual said.”

Over the course of the 90-minute meeting, several common ideas emerged, including using the property for ecological and agricultural education for children and adults, preserving important wildlife habitats that exist and using part of the property for hiking, cross-country skiing, or even biking. Residents also suggested some sort of farming or community gardening component to the property or possibly using five to 10 acres of the property for a low-cluster housing development for people over the age of 55.

Scarborough Land Trust President Paul Austin said the latter suggestion would not be possible because it conflicts with the charter of the land trust. The trust did debate whether to break off a piece of land to sell to a developer, but ultimately ruled that option out.

“There is so few land conservation properties in that part of Scarborough, so I personally would be reluctant to develop that,” he said.

Many of the suggestions that were expressed at the meeting do fall in line with the land trust’s vision for the newly acquired land, especially reinvigorating agricultural use.

“We have believed for a long time that an agricultural component on a piece of public property is a really, really good thing,” Austin said.

It is something Roger Doiron would like to see.

“I’ve grown up here in Scarborough and I’ve seen the town lose its agricultural tradition,” he said during a small group brainstorming session. “I’d like to see us use the Benjamin Farm property to hold on to that.”

The property has a rich farming tradition dating back to the 1820s. In 1826, John and Sarah Robinson purchased 75 acres of the land to operate Robinson Farm. The couple lived on the farm with their 10 children from the 1820s to the 1860s. By 1870, the Robinson’s youngest son, Charles and his wife Susan inherited the farm where they raised seven children. Their youngest child, William took over the farm in 1901 and worked and lived on the land for 50 years.

The other side of the Benjamin Farm property was also a longtime active farm. In the early 1900s, Hans Christian Lund, a Danish immigrant, purchased Beech Hill Farm. He and his daughter, Annie, farmed on the site until 1920, when Annie and her husband Neils Johnson took over. Annie and Neils operated the farm for the next 35 years, first as a dairy farm and then later to grow vegetables.

Benjamin purchased the entire property in the mid-1950s and farmed it until 2005.

Austin said the land trust is currently conducting a natural resource inventory to document the plants and animals that live on the property and would like to set up a neighborhood stewardship committee to help maintain the land.

At the end of March the land trust will be demolishing the farmhouse on site, which Austin called a “disastrous mess.” Some of the house’s architectural elements will be saved, but Austin said unfortunately the land trust does not have the money to preserve or salvage the run-down structure.

This spring or early summer a small parking lot with eight to 12 spaces will be constructed.

In the meantime the land trust will solicit more comment about what residents want to see at Benjamin Farm. The second, and last, brainstorming session is scheduled for Thursday, March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Wentworth School cafeteria.

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