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Joppa Hill hopes to reach new lease agreement

BEDFORD - Attorneys for the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill and the town have gone back to the table in an attempt to reach an agreement concerning its lease.

The town has begun proceedings to evict the farm if it does not agree to make repairs to its barn, which the town deems unsafe.

The town issued breach of lease documents to the farm last week, which asserted that the EFJH failed to maintain the barn in accordance with the lease, didn't begin repairs "expeditiously and with diligence," entered into sublease agreements with individuals or organizations and exposed the public to safety risks that could also impact the town's insurance rates.

The lease is set to terminate on March 8, but according to EFJH Board President Michael Scanlon, the two sides are making one final attempt to reach an agreement.

"We believe the structure is repairable," he said. "Our desire is to work with the town to come up with an agreement that is acceptable to both parties."

Of particular issue is the removal of ceiling tiles, which are believed to contain asbestos.

The town has agreed to spearhead the removal of the tiles, at which point the farm would decide whether it wants to proceed with the remainder of the renovations, said Town Manager Jessie Levine.

"The lawyers are talking at this point," Levine said, adding that the 30-day time frame the farm was given to remedy the situation remains in effect.

"We want to be a good negotiating partner and have these conversations in good faith, but some of these feel like a do-over," she said.

Scanlon said the new proposed agreement includes a longer time frame for the barn to be repaired. The town had given a 150-day deadline for the repairs to be completed, which Scanlon said was not enough time.

Scanlon said the farm has enough money to repair the building, and is expecting an agreement to be finalized this week.

"There has been some discussion," Scanlon said. "I think the agreement accomplishes what both sides wanted to accomplish."

Scanlon said should this agreement fall through, the farm is prepared to fight an eviction by the town.

"We would vigorously defend ourselves," he said. "We're fully confident that we have a valid lease with the town."

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