Harvest Hill: marijuana or organic beef?

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MECHANIC FALLS — The former Harvest Hill Farm property on Route 26 may continue operations as a farm.

The question is what type of farm.

POT OR BEEF? — The expansive Harvest Hill Farm on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls that is on the market for $1.6 million is generating quite a bit of interest, according to the realtor.

Listing Agent Roger Gagnon told the Advertiser Democrat that several serious inquiries have shot to the forefront for the 199-acre property at 125 Pigeon Hill Rd. that is listed at $1.6 million.

“The most interest has been in marijuana (retail grow business) and keeping it as a farm,” he said of the many ideas for reuse of the farm.

The proposals include at least two different plans from local area business people to develop a recreational marijuana grow operation and one from a southern Maine company that is looking to purchase the property to expand its business, using as farmland, raising animals and producing organic beef for the marketplace.

“It’s just a matter of time,” said Gagnon of the sale that he anticipates could happen within a month.

No plans are on the table to use the property for residential or commercial buildings or subdivisions, he said.

Gagnon said the property has generated a very high amount of interest from prospective buyers from both in and out of state during the 75 days it has been on the market.

The century-plus-old farm, that received nation-wide attention in 2015 when a 17-year-old-girl from Oakland was killed and dozens of others were injured in a haunted hayride, was sold at a foreclosure auction in July 2016 for $1 million.

It is currently owned by two mortgage holders of the land and buildings, E-Layne Moulders Corp. of New York, a privately held company in Amityville, NY, and Jaspan Schlesinger LLP, a law firm with offices in New York, who bought back the property from Andover Covered Bridge LLC owner Peter Bolduc Jr. at the auction.

According to court documents, Jaspan Schlesinger and E-Layne Moulders Corp. hold a joint mortgage on the property and are each owed $550,000.

The town of Mechanic Falls also has a lien on the property for $30,228 in unpaid taxes in fiscal 2016, which covers the period from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, according to deputy tax collector Angela Grenier.

Former owner Peter Bolduc’s corporation – Andover Covered Bridge LLC – filed for bankruptcy a year ago while facing foreclosure. The 2015 bankruptcy filing was dismissed by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in December.

In his decision, the judge said Andover Covered Bridge LLC was unable to keep up on its mortgage payments, accruing additional interest debt, generating no income and continually filing its operating income statements late.

Andover appealed the dismissal in an attempt to forestall the foreclosure sale, but the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Appellate Panel for the First Circuit upheld the lower court’s dismissal.

Buyers’ legwork

Buying the farm has required of lot of legwork for the prospective buyers.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on the buyers’ side,” Gagnon said. “They (prospective buyers) have to see what the town allows and doesn’t.”

For example, one of the hurdles for the business people who are interested in the new industry of recreational marijuana cultivation, and see the expansive farmland and its multiple farm buildings as a viable site, will be whether the town imposes a moratorium on grow and retail sites, Gagnon said.

The big motivation is the available space to grow marijuana indoors but the detriment may be whether they can set up a retail store on-site, Gagnon said.

In November, voters narrowly approved legalization of recreational marijuana. The new law calls for a nine-month implementation period in which state regulators will make rules for marijuana retailers and social clubs, but some area towns are already trying to delay the implementation by placing a moratorium or prohibition on retail marijuana.

Mechanic Falls Town Manager Koriene Low said the town has not discussed placing any restrictions on retail marijuana businesses yet, as other towns have started to so.

“No not at this time, we are awaiting the action of the Legislature,” she said.

Gagnon said the property has had a large amount of activity online including a few hundred “hits” per week. An “average” property will receive about 20 to 30 “hits” per week, he said.

Longtime farm

Built around the turn of the 20th century, the farm was one of a number on Pigeon Hill, the agricultural section of town that stretched from the valley of the Little Androscoggin River to what was known as Mount Hunger.

It was first developed by Edward Morey, a prominent Winchester, MA manufacturer and was considered one of Maine’s leading dairy and agricultural farms, according to local newspaper accounts of the time.

When he died in 1907 his sons, Walter and Charles took it over. Later Walter sold his interest in the then 500-acre farm to Charles. Charles died in the early 1930s and the farm went to his wife Ella, who later moved to Portland. In 1937, she sold the farm to Henry and Ada Gagne who had lived on the farm for 16 years.

At the time of the sale,  the Morey Farm had a large stock of cattle, hens, six large buildings including two tenement houses and extensive orchards that extended to the Poland town line.

In recent years, Murray A. Schwartz, a long time resident of New York and highly decorated World War II veteran who was a prisoner of war captured during the Battle of the Bulge, purchased what was then known as the  Ram-Ewe Farm in 1980 and became a full-time resident of Maine in 1985. He died in 2005 at the age of 81.

The farm then went into the hands of Peter Bolduc Jr. who developed the farm from a small operation to supply family and friends with home-grown beef to a full marketplace selling natural, range-fed meats and vegetables.

In 2009 the farm  expanded into a seasonal amusement park “Pumpkin Land” that had been purchased from the owners of the Chipman Farm. It included rides, attractions, nature activities and a corn maze. The bulk of Pumpkin Land’s cash flow was produced during the fall season, when a haunted hayride, known as The Gauntlet, began in 2010, according to  court documents.

When the accident occurred in 2015, that source of revenue began to dry up and the property went into foreclosure.

The farm’s pub and popular pizza parlor were also shut down last summer.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net