The future of a popular Durham farm appears to be in jeopardy as town officials reconsider the process in which town-owned property is leased.
At Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting, resident Joseph Pasquale raised concerns over the Conservation Commission's recent discussion with town attorney Robert Poliner regarding Deerfield Farm.
Pasquale, in reading the minutes from the June 6 commission meeting, said it appeared as though the town was attempting "to pull the carpet out from underneath [the farm]" by adopting a new lease policy.
For the past eight years, dairy farmer Melynda Naples has leased the 60-acre farm. She pays $4,800 per year to the town which is set aside to pay for upkeep of the property, according to First Selectman Laura Francis, Naples had until recently been behind in payments to the town.
"Until such point in time that we as a community agree to subsidize that operation than we both have to live up to the letter of our agreement and that tenant, almost since the beginning, has not always held up her end of that agreement," Francis said.
Francis told Pasquale that Poliner's comments to the commission were merely "suggestions" designed to make the bidding process competitive. Francis said it was up to the commission to negotiate the terms of a new lease and that the Board of Selectmen would be required to approve it.
"I'm obligated to do what's right," she said.
According to the minutes of the June 6 meeting, Poliner recommended that the lease go out for bid because there is no clause in the current lease for automatic renewal. Payments should be made up front as well, he said.
Poliner also suggested that there be a "performance clause" in the lease.
Pasquale asked Francis whether a similar process had been followed when the town recently agreed to lease town-owned land on Howd Road to Greenbacker Farm for haying.
"No, but it should've," Francis said.
"It seems to me that if we're going to promote agriculture in the community and we're going to ask someone to make an investment of dollars and time in their lives to try to make a go at running a difficult business... and yet as the community we're not willing to make the committment to the people running this business," Pasquale added.
Naples, who attended the meeting, did not address the lease issue but said she was still waiting to hear from the town over damage to a fence that she said was caused by the town's Public Works Department following Tropical Storm Irene.
Naples said she had sent a letter to Francis and attempted to contact Public Works director Kurt Bober.
"Everytime I talk to him nothing has happened, no estimates, nothing," Naples said. "He usually turns the other way when he sees me."
Francis told Naples she would send someone from the town to the farm to determine what steps could be taken.