A Keene nonprofit is seeking a variance so it can move its equine-based programming to the Elm Farm on Hurricane Road.
Cooper’s Crossroad — which assists people who have experienced trauma — has leased a portion of the property at 139-149 Hurricane Road for its two programs, “Farming for Resilience” and “Pathways to Wellness.”
Both programs are designed to teach Cooper’s Crossroad’s four core values: courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion. The organization works with horses to demonstrate these values to students through “Farming for Resilience” and to the broader community through “Pathways to Wellness.”
According to Christina Major, Cooper’s Crossroad’s founder and board president, the operation has outgrown its home at Dusty Dog Farm at 700 West St., which Major co-owns.
“Both of the organizations have grown to such a degree that one farm is unable to house them,” Major said. “So we had the good fortune of finding Elm Farm and making a really good connection, and [we signed] a lease that was finalized on June 1 of this year.”
However, Cooper’s Crossroad needs a variance from Keene’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to run outdoor recreational activities as a business on the farm, which is in the city’s low-density 1 district.
Major said much of the work to clear the property and prepare it for the horses has begun. But Cooper’s Crossroad can’t move ahead until the zoning board approves the plan. The board is set to discuss the proposal on Monday.
“We’re are praying that the ... variance goes through and that we can move horses there as early as next week,” Major said. According to the variance application the organization submitted to the zoning board, between four and 10 horses would be housed at the farm as part of Cooper’s Crossroad’s programming.
According to the application, Cooper’s Crossroad feels its proposed use of the Hurricane Road property wouldn’t violate the spirit of Keene’s zoning ordinance. The only new structures planned there, the application states, are a pair of 14-by-20-foot “run-in sheds,” which the horses can use to escape bad weather.
The structures are expected to be set back from the road, with one behind an existing barn and the second in a space even farther back that would not be visible from Hurricane Road or surrounding properties.
“The use requested in the variance is an agricultural-related educational activity that will not change or upset the current low density/low intensity environment,” the application says. “The agricultural and open space ‘feel’ of the neighborhood surrounding Elm Farm will continue undisturbed, consistent with the objective of the zoning ordinance.”
Major said there may be some concerns about increased traffic in the area, but that vehicles coming on and off the property would be kept to a minimum.
In addition to program participants, staff members would come to the farm once or twice daily to care for the horses, with one or two staff members in a single vehicle, according to the application. The organization would also receive supply deliveries in commercial vehicles no larger or more frequently than what might be expected at a residence, the application states.
Major said additional traffic and noise from the programs won’t cause disturbances. In fact, she said, bringing Cooper’s Crossroad’s programming to Elm Farm will be a benefit to the community.
“What we’re trying to do is not just help people ... but we’re also trying to bring back a farm,” Major said. “This farm hasn’t been actively worked with, I would say, in decades.”
The zoning board is scheduled to take up Cooper’s Crossroad’s variance request during its meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Keene City Hall.