Brothers eye new life for vacant gas station in South Deerfield

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-28-2023 8:11 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Two brothers are seeking to knock the dust off the vacant Cumberland Farms across from the South Deerfield Common, provided they can secure a state grant to kick-start the purchase and redevelopment of the site.

James and Jason Heller, two Deerfield natives currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and Space Force in Alabama and Greenland, respectively, are looking to take over the property, which has been vacant since 2018, and repurpose what some deem an eyesore into small restaurants and a pocket park for families to enjoy.

The two men already own the building at 8 Sugarloaf St., which used to host The Daylily and is now the home of Blazing Light Photography. In pursuing this next project, they hope to bring more people into the center of town.

“We really are proud of where we grew up. We love Deerfield,” James Heller said last week from his station in Alabama. “Bringing some life to the center of South Deerfield would be awesome.”

Heller said he and his brother were inspired by an outdoor dining and park location called The Fort in Spanish Fort, Alabama. He explained The Fort is a series of repurposed shipping containers in the center of town that contain restaurants and bars, with a centralized green space for people to eat outside and hang out with their families. They thought a similar type of establishment would fit right into South Deerfield.

The Hellers are seeking a MassDevelopment Underutilized Property grant and the Select Board has submitted a letter of support to supplement that application. The grant program falls under the state’s Community One Stop for Growth initiative and funds “projects that will improve, rehabilitate or redevelop blighted, abandoned, vacant or underutilized properties,” the state’s webpage explains.

“It’s kind of a long shot,” Heller said of the grant. “Without it, we’ll have to modify our plan.”

The grant is typically geared toward municipalities, but the state allows for-profit businesses to apply with the stipulation that these projects “make clear the public purposes advanced by their proposed funding request.” In fiscal year 2023, several

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The former Cumberland Farms has been vacant since 2018 and the gasoline pumps were removed a few years later. Heller said the property has several commercial deed restrictions on it and, while outdoor remediation has been completed, there could be some asbestos in the walls because the building was constructed in 1950.

“Our plan is basically trying to take advantage of the space that’s there,” he said. “Lots of old gas stations have been turned into coffee shops and restaurants.”

While not explicitly stated, the Hellers’ project is in line with the town’s long-term South Deerfield revitalization plan, which aims to increase the walkability, accessibility and connectivity for all residents by creating a campus based around the common, Tilton Library, Town Hall and the South County Senior Center.

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