By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Last weekend was a bad time for the promoters of large events at Kimball Farm to have their worst parking debacle.
Police said traffic was backed up several miles Saturday morning as hundreds of vehicles lined up attempting to enter the East Broadway property for the Color Me Rad race, preventing residents in the area from exiting their driveways by automobile. Traffic was backed up all the way to Route 110 and Interstate 495 more than three miles away, police said. Officials used words such as “crisis,” “disaster” and “nightmare” to describe the scene at last night’s City Council meeting.
Councilors have been keeping a close eye on events at the farm in the wake of neighborhood complaints and police concerns about the escalating size of events at the rural location. They are in the process of making new rules increasing the city’s ability to control the size, frequency and other aspects of large public events in the city.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he began receiving phone calls Saturday morning from angry neighbors and motorists while he was in New Jersey, and that he sent police Chief Alan DeNaro to the farm to see what was happening.
In a letter to the council, DeNaro said the situation was so bad that he would not support future events at the farm.
“For these events to truly be successful, they must not only be beneficial to those obtaining a profit, but also provide minimal impact on neighboring residents and travelers in and around the area,” the chief said in his letter. “The problems caused by events of this magnitude far outweigh any benefits to Haverhill.”
Lt. Robert Pistone told councilors last night that emergency personal such as fire trucks or ambulances would not have been to able to reach the area had there been a fire, accident, altercation or other emergency. Pistone stressed that roads surrounding Kimball Farm weren’t designed to handle so much traffic at one time.
The council considered three future events at Kimball Farm last night: Foam Fest on June 21 and 22, Dirty Girl Mud Run on July 19 and Mudderella on Sept. 6. They rejected them all.
Councilors said they would allow Sunday’s KidsFEST event to go on as scheduled because it was previously approved.
“We’ve been watching events at that beautiful property and we’ve tried to be flexible, but it’s gotten out of hand,” Councilor William Ryan said. “This past weekend there were so many cars that it created a crisis. Cars were backed up four miles for 495. It was a disaster.”
Meredith Robinson, sales director for Front Office Events LLC of Amesbury, said her company was caught off guard Saturday when about 1,000 more vehicles than were expected began arriving for the Color Me Rad race. She said all participants began arriving between 7 and 9 in the morning. She that was unusual for races at the farm, which usually have staggered start times so participants don’t all arrive at once.
Robinson said her company began letting people onto the farm property without paying to get vehicles off the street as fast as possible. By that time it was too late, however.
“This was the first we had a mass-start like this, and the first time we had a problem like this,” Robinson said. “The roads there are too narrow for a mass-start race, but not for the kind of events we have coming up.”
Front Office Events, a spin-off of Amesbury Sports Park, was scheduled to hold seven events through September at Kimball Farm. Robinson has said her company has an agreement with Tyler Kimball, a city firefighter whose family owns Kimball Farm, to hold events there. She said her company pays Kimball a fee for each event from parking revenue.
Kimball began holding non-agricultural events at his property last year under a pilot program with the state Department of Agricultural Resources. The department’s approval was required because the state purchased the development rights to the farm some years ago under a program aimed at preserving operational farms in Massachusetts.
“We wanted to give these events a chance,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said. “But our worst nightmare came true. We’ll consider smaller events in the future, but no more large events.”
Council President John Michitson said he relied on the police chief’s letter in making his decision.
“We all tried to be fair and give it a shot,” Michitson said. “But we can’t ignore the police chief’s safety concerns. The event was a disaster and we’re not willing to take that risk again.”