Nursery dispute escalates into social media

Thayer Nursery is a little farm in Milton that has had some unhappy neighbors.

Over the years, the nursery has dealt with its share of complaints from nearby residents who didn’t like the dust, noise, and smells that go along with running an agricultural and landscaping business.


But the nursery’s owners say this time is different. They say one particular set of neighbors at a home on Parkwood Drive is trying to put them out of business.

The standoff between the nursery and those residents has gone beyond being a neighborly dispute and has escalated into a debate that has spread through social media, and sparked sharp criticism from loyal customers and fans of the nursery, including some seething comments and nasty name-calling on Facebook.

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“Can we picket their house. . . . See how they like being harassed,” wrote one nursery supporter. “Let’s all get together make these neighbors miserable maybe they will move,” said another. “Let’s all drive by honking our horns,” said another.

The latest blow came last week, when the Zoning Board of Appeals sided with the neighbors and concluded that Thayer Nursery had been storing and selling firewood illegally.

John S. Rowe, one of the neighbors who initiated the latest complaint against Thayer Nursery, insists that he harbors no ill will and just wants the nursery to follow the rules. What concerns him is that the nursery stores large amounts of kiln-dried firewood in a warehouse that is only 100 feet from his home, and there is no fire-suppression system in place.


“We’re not trying to put them out of business,” said Rowe, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2009.

While Thayer Nursery is regarded as a local institution that is beloved by many, this is not the first time that neighbors have complained about it.

The nursery occupies 8.5 acres in a quiet, rural residential neighborhood at the base of the Blue Hills. The business has been run by the Oldfield family since the 1960s. Maggie Oldfield said that when her parents bought the farm in 1963, there was plenty of open space. But as the land around the farm was developed, the farm was left with less breathing room.

The property has been the subject of several zoning board decisions dating to 1967, said Milton Building Commissioner Joseph Prondak.

In 2002, a group of neighbors from Parkwood Drive complained about the noise, smells, and dust generated by Thayer Nursery. As a result, the town placed some restrictions on Thayer’s operations to limit the noise.

In 2009, Rowe and Philip Johenning bought a single-family Colonial on Parkwood Drive. Their home was built in 1967 and their property borders the back lot of Thayer Nursery. Rowe said they were surprised to learn that the nursery was running a large-scale commercial landscaping and construction business practically in their backyard.

As early as 2010, Rowe and Johenning told town officials that airborne dust and dirt was keeping them from enjoying their swimming pool. They also complained that they had to put up with odors from piles of mulch and manure, as well as noise and fumes from dump trucks, front-end loaders, and other construction vehicles.

It wasn’t until last fall that the town, in response to the complaints, ordered the nursery to move its landscaping vehicles, tools, and equipment off-site. Thayer now rents space in Stoughton for that purpose, according to Oldfield.

On the issue of firewood, Rowe said the nursery keeps up to 17 cords of kiln-dried wood (the equivalent of 2,176 cubic feet) on the site and uses dump trucks to deliver wood to customers all over Eastern Massachusetts. Thayer sells up to 500 cords a season, he said.

“This is not just cash and carry . . . it’s morphed into a huge operation,” said Rowe.

The Zoning Board of Appeals agreed.

On Jan. 23, the board voted unanimously that bulk sales and storage of firewood at Thayer Nursery was not an allowable use, but that small quantities were allowed, “similar to what would be seen at Stop & Shop, for example,” said Prondak.

Frank Di Luna, the lawyer representing the nursery, said the Oldfields have appealed the town’s previous decisions and the firewood decision will be appealed as well. The earlier appeals are still pending.

The zoning board is expected to issue its final written decision on the sale of firewood by Feb. 26, according to Prondak.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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