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Judge to render decision on Spring Hill Farm eviction soon

Union Leader Correspondent

December 06. 2017 3:28PM
Jay and Angela Sweet are looking to place their horses as they face eviction from the farm they care for in Chester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

DERRY — The battle over Spring Hill Farm entered the courtroom Wednesday as the Sweet family, caretakers of the 400-acre property, are fighting eviction.

Jay and Angela Sweet, who appeared in Derry District Court with their two teenage daughters, said the family is being unfairly pushed off the property and selectmen are going against the wishes of the townspeople and previous selectmen.

"We have done nothing wrong. We pay our rent on time," said Jay Sweet, who was very emotional at times when speaking before Judge Lucinda Sadler. "We had no idea that the selectmen were not going to renew our lease when we received notice on July 4."

Chester Town Attorney Diane M. Gorrow said the question is who owns the property, which in this case is the town.

"The selectmen have determined that they no longer wanted to rent out the property," she said. "They wanted the farm to be a working farm, they wanted to have more access by other people in the town and having a tenant on the property was not conducive to ... making the most of that property."

Sadler said she would make a decision and inform the two sides via mail, likely within a week. The issue of the Sweets' eviction has divided the town, with more than 100 people signing a petition to allow the family to stay.

The historic Chester property was owned by beloved Chester schoolteacher Muriel Church, who set up the Spring Hill Farm Trust in 1996. She donated the farmhouse, barn and 400 acres of land to the town with the understanding it would remain open space and, to the extent possible, a working farm in perpetuity.

The trust documents stipulate the town offer the use of the house to Church's cousins, Anne Sweet and Jane James, or "their children and grandchildren, in such terms as they and the Trustees shall agree."

The Sweets relocated from Kansas to operate the farmstead in 2014. Jay Sweet worked on the property as a teenager most summers and is related to Church through Anne Sweet.

Sweet said he has made significant improvements to the property, including installing a new kitchen, erecting fences and reclaiming an idle pasture. He maintains it is a working farm, as evident by the fields of crops, tapped maple trees for syrup, dozens of agricultural animals on-site, and the tours offered to the public.

Conversations at the town level have involved the Sweets since August 2016, according to Gorrow, who said Church did not want the farm operating at a net-loss.

Cass Buckley, a Chester selectman and Spring Hill trustee, has previously said the property is not a true working farm and the Sweets have been mismanaging it. He pointed to the lack of revenue from the farm operations and wanted to explore other options for community activities there.

"It's a great resource, so we should do something with it," Buckley said. "Make it an attractive place for residents to go."

Sweet said the family believes they are preserving Church's vision by operating the property at the highest standards and keeping it as a working farm for the community to enjoy.

"That's what we were doing," he said.

Courts Real estate Chester Derry

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