This is the saga of the Sweets and the Muriel Church farm, also known as Springhill Farm in Chester NH.
Take a look at this place. It’s obvious the Sweets take pride in the proprietorship of their relative, Muriel Church’s farm. It seems odd that the Board of Selectmen suddenly want them evicted. But that is just what is happening.
On Saturday, September 30, 2017 Jay Sweet called to tell us his story.
Jay Sweet is from Kansas but grew up spending a lot of time on relative “aunt” Muriel Church’s farm in Chester NH. Born in 1912, Muriel was a 35-year career schoolteacher who owned 100 acres in Maine and 400 acres in Chester, NH.
At the time of her death in 2001 she entrusted the NH property to the town of Chester with the stipulation that they rent to tenants, preferably family members, who would maintain the farm as open space, in perpetuity.
Chester Town Website Page on Springhill Farm: http://www.chesternh.org/spring-hill-farm
The trust now splits the responsibility with the Town and they take nearly an equal part in maintaining the farm.
Mr. Sweet pays $850/mo rent and maintains the farm currently. There are crops, hay, horses, chickens, etc. and they are allowed to keep and use the money from the sale of extra hay, veggies, etc to put back into the property. The trust has also given money to help repair the buildings. The house and grounds look well maintained and there have been no complaints. However, the Sweets were recently and suddenly given an EVICTION notice to vacate (7/4/2017 lease) without being given any reason why. Cass Buckley, newest BoS and Trustee, seems to be the instigator.
The trust hired an attorney who is the original lawyer that wrote up Muriel Church’s original will and trust.
He seemed to be favorable to the Sweets at the BoS meeting and seems to think this eviction action goes against Muriel’s intentions. He cited a long list of improvements the Sweets have made to the farm.
On the “Chester Front Porch Chatter” Facebook Page, you can sense the frustration from the residents who feel the farm is an asset to the town of Chester and well maintained. If you can’t access FB to see the group “Chester Front Porch Chatter” we would like to note there were excerpts where Selectman Dick Trask made the outrageous statement that kicking the Sweets off the farm would save the town the $12,000 that it costs them for each of the Sweet’s kids.
*Sweet questions the reason for the eviction as he was given none, save for the unsubstantiated ‘mismanagement’ statement by BoS Cass Buckley. Is there some procedure that they must use to evict someone from an agreement with a trust?
*Sweet questions as we do, the reason for the abrupt non-public session, then the return to the public discussion of the farm.
*Sweet has also reported this situation to various human rights group, filed a complaint, and the matter is currently being investigated, including HUD Boston, with regard to housing rights.
Video of BoS meeting is here:
The BoS minutes are here:
BoS Minutes August 24, 2017
The next meetings regarding farm issue and BoS will be held on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 – Spring Hill Farm, 7 PM, Meeting Room and Thursday, October 19, 2017 – Board of Selectmen, 7 PM, Meeting Room. It is suggested people attend to support the Sweets.
In the video of the BoS meeting, the “new” BoS member is Cass Buckley, in the middle of the right side of the table, who suggested the farm was being ‘mismanaged’ without offering any proof. Trask is the man closest to the camera on the right side. He is who has engaged on FB making comments about the cost of sending the children to school, Stephen D’Angelo the furthest from camera on the right side who didn’t say much, and the lawyer who drew up the trust originally is the gray haired man on the left side of the table closest to camera. The selectman on the phone was Jack Cannon and he was the one who suggested going non-public but did not say why.
The new Selectman/Trustee gives no clue as to why he thinks the farm is being ‘mismanaged’. He seems to have made this statement without offering any proof. He tries to silence the lawyer after stating that there needn’t be a tenant there according to the trust. Eventually the lawyer gets to say that was the spirit of the way Muriel Church wanted the farm to be managed.
This ‘mismanagement’ charge would seem at odds with all the commenters from townspeople who support the Sweets on social media as well as the list of improvements the lawyer cited that the Sweet’s have made since taking over the care of the property. One person in the video mentioned there was a massive cleanup undertaken when first taken over by the Sweets.
The farm’s FB and Instagram pages show what a good job they have done. This farm appears to be an idyllic attraction. The BoS kept suggesting that things could be done to make more money for the upkeep, for example, drafting volunteers to lead hikes, tours, hayrides, etc… The tenants are not opposed to that and have been doing that and planning more as much as time allows, as Mr. Sweet is employed full time.
The petition that residents have started has already garnering about 95 signatures. Signers especially objected to the Selectmen’s lack of stated reasons for wanting the Sweets off the property.
The petition can be found here: Sweet Petition
Finally, this brings us to the ‘non-public session’ business. It seems that after they returned, they kept on discussing the farm situation. Would it be fair to assume that the farm was also the subject of this private session? If so, this issue really hasn’t anything to do with hiring, firing, etc so could one challenge the fact that they entered into a non-public session?