Berkshire Farm Sees New Aggie Commissioner Sworn In

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Scott Soares
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Western Mass. farmers say they have a friend in new Agricultural Commissioner Scott Soares.

Soares, who's been with the Department of Agricultural Resources since 1996, was acting commissioner for most of 2007, during which he was co-leader of the task force charged with resolving a sudden financial crisis in the state's dairy industry.

His leadership aided in the development of the landmark Dairy Farm Preservation Act, which was passed at record speed, to aid farmers caught between declining milk prices and rising feed and energy costs.

"I definitely think Scott is the right person for the job," said Joseph Nowak, chairman of the Adams Agricultural Commission on Friday. "He's very knowledgeable and he's got good ideas. He's a very intelligent person."

Soares was sworn into office Friday morning by Gov. Deval Patrick, with one of the state's largest dairy farms, Pine Island Farm, as the backdrop.

"With a national focus on the benefits of locally grown produce and natural foods, it's an exciting time for agriculture," Soares said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Department of Agricultural, Massachusetts farms have stopped disappearing — they've actually increased from 6,075 in 2002 to 7,691 farms in 2007. The market value of agricultural production also jumped during the same period, from $384 million to $490 million.

The Dartmouth native replaces Douglas W. Petersen, a 17-year state representative appointed to the post in November 2007. The selection of the Marblehead Democrat, an early supporter of Patrick, hadn't been welcomed by farming groups who felt his environmental record put him in opposition to their interests.

According to The Boston Globe, Petersen was ousted last week after losing a power struggle with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles. The governor reportedly declined to intervene. According to a press release posted on the governor's Web site, Petersen officially stepped down today.

"No one could be more deserving of this position than Scott Soares," Bowles, who appointed Soares, said in a statement. "Scott has a track record of service to Massachusetts farmers, and as commissioner, he will be in a position to provide leadership for years to come."

Soares has been assistant commissioner since November 2007 and will take his post at DAR on Monday, April 13. The ceremony took place early Friday morning at Pine Island Farm, owned by Louis Aragi since 1964. The dairy farm is good-sized, with 470 dry and milking cows and 500 young stock.

Aragi, reached later Friday, said the use of the farm was a last-minute decision: "No particular reason, they just like us." His son, also named Louis, who now operates the farm, is a good friend of Soares and offered Pine Island for the swearing-in. Media received e-mails late Thursday informing them of the event.

Despite the last-minute scheduling, there was a good crowd and good weather, Aragi said.

"In my opinion, he was the best man for the job," said Aragi. "He's very knowledgable and he's done much to help dairy farmers in this state."

In an interview with iBerkshires a few months ago, Soares spoke on the advances being made in technology that will help Bay State farmers of all stripes make their businesses more profitable and less labor intensive. There are ways, he said then, of using land management practices that will allow farming and conservation to exist side by side.

"I am confident that the state's agricultural industry will continue to flourish under Scott's leadership," said Patrick. "His experience and record of commitment to the commonwealth's farmers make him uniquely qualified for this post."

After the ceremony, Patrick and Soares met with area farmers and members of statewide and community agricultural organizations to discuss agricultural priorities, including state-sponsored programs to boost energy efficiency on farms, enhance agricultural waste management and composting, increase awareness about food safety and help farmers expand their businesses.

Soares graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth with a double major in biology and marine biology, following seven years of active and reserve service in the Army.

He serves on the National Association of State Aquaculture Coordinators and the board of directors of Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. He was honored in 1999 with a Citation for Outstanding Performance by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and last month received the 2009 Government Leadership Award from The Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, which represents 334 growers across the state.

"Farm Bureau members from across Massachusetts trust and respect Scott Soares, and we look forward to working with him," said Alex Dowse, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, which represents 6,300 agricultural members, in a statement. "He has proven his abilities as an advocate for Massachusetts agriculture."
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Letter: Problematic Proposed Lenox Short-Term Rental Bylaw

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Under the proposed short-term rental Lenox bylaw, "up to two bedrooms in a dwelling unit may be rented year-round by right provided that the owner or tenant is occupying the dwelling unit at the time of the rental."

Presumably, bedrooms may not be rented at all if the owner or tenant is not occupying the dwelling unit.

In other words, literally, the very same use is allowed by one type of owner (an owner occupying the dwelling unit), but not another type of owner (one who does not occupy the dwelling unit where bedrooms are being rented). Because there is identical use and intensity and the only thing that differs is the type of owner or renter; it is hard to view this as mere regulation of use and not ownership.

The other provision suffers from the same problem. Suppose there is a duplex or land with two houses on it (perhaps an old robber-baron estate) but with separate owners for each dwelling unit. Under the rule regarding "dwelling units being rented in their entirety," "an entire dwelling unit maybe rented up to 75 days per calendar year by right," and "an entire dwelling unit may be rented for an additional 35 days (up to 110 days) per calendar year by Special Permit."

But then suppose there is unity of ownership and one person owns the entire duplex or both houses. In that case, "the above totals apply to the entire parcel" and "the day limits defined above shall be apportioned among those dwelling units."

A town can regulate the number of days a short-term rental may be utilized under the newly passed statute: but this additional restriction based on who owns the premises is a regulation of ownership and not use.

The same is instinct through other parts as well. Of course, Lenox residents or their guest can park in the street. But if you are renting a short-term rental, "All overnight parking must be within the property's driveway or garage." If you own or rent property, so long as you get the right permits, you may entertain on your property. But if you are a short-term renter, "events that include tents or amplified music or which would customarily require a license or permit are not allowed."

Since 1905, when Home Rules was put into the [Massachusetts] Constitution, towns could pass their own bylaws, so long as there was no regulation of a civil relationship unless it was an incident to a legitimate municipal power. This meant, among other things, zoning laws had to regulate use and not ownership. It is now a fundamental principle of Massachusetts zoning that it deals basically with the use, without regard to the ownership of the property involved, or who may be the operator of the use. This bylaw appears to violate this fundamental tenet.

By way of example of the you-may-regulate-use-but-not-ownership rule, it has been held that a city did not have authority under the Massachusetts Constitution to pass an ordinance that affected the civil relationship between tenants and their landlord, who wished to convert their rental units to condominiums. In another case, a municipal ordinance which restricted a landlord's ability to terminate a lease and remove his property from the rental market in order to sell it was invalid.

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