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Town may allow small-scale farming in residential zones

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CANTON — Robert J. Washo and Flip P. Filippi operate a community-supported vegetable garden on their Miner Street Road property adjacent to Taylor Park beach.

The couple also has pigs and chickens.

The problem is they’re not supposed to run a community-supported agriculture project, known as a CSA, on the portion of their 25-acre property that is within the town of Canton’s residential zone. Several shareholders participate in farm labor and share the harvest.

Right now their operation, known as Little Grasse Foodworks, is illegal because CSAs are not allowed in residential areas, according to the town’s existing code.

But that could change if Mr. Washo and numerous supporters are successful at getting the code revised.

“We’re technically illegal,” he said. “We’re trying to get the code amended not just for us, but for several others interested in small-scale agriculture.”

Mr. Washo and several other community members interested in raising animals, growing orchards and pursuing other ventures have spent the past 18 months trying to persuade town officials to revise the code.

As a result, the town Planning Board is considering allowing small-scale agriculture as well as fowl and pigs in the residential zone. The change would require a special permit, a site plan review and a public hearing for each application.

“We’re happy it’s finally coming to the surface,” Mr. Washo said. “Everyone is going to get their chance to talk about it. There are other residential property owners that want to do something, but they can’t.”

The town’s residential zone includes County Route 27 north from the village line to Sykes Road, Miner Street Road from the village line for about two miles, a section of county Route 27 south to Hale Road, Hale Road from county Route 27 to Pike Road, Judson Street Road to Ames Road and State Route 310 from the village line extending about one mile.

Specific safeguards would be put in place, such as setback distance from neighbors, fencing requirements, number of animals allowed for property size, odor control and other issues that could be considered a nuisance.

At the Nov. 27 town Planning Board meeting, resident Richard W. Grover agreed to lead a Small Scale Farming Advisory Group that will make recommendations about how the town code should be revised for residential zones.

“Obviously, the zoning code needs to be updated to reflect the surging interest in locally grown food crops and livestock,” Mr. Grover said. “This is a growth industry that brings many benefits to those involved as well as to our local economy.”

In a letter to the advisory group, Mr. Grover — a former St. Lawrence County Planning Office director — said he envisions zoning changes that will be “permissive toward a wide variety of small-scale gardening and farming operations.”

Town Supervisor David T. Button supports the idea of allowing CSA vegetable gardens in the town’s residential districts. But he’s against allowing pigs, goats, chickens and other farm animals in residential zones.

“Right now, I don’t think we (the town board) would be supportive of animals in the residential zone, even chickens,” Mr. Button said.

The village of Canton allows property owners to raise chickens if they complete an application process that requires getting support from their neighbors.

Mr. Button said people who purchased homes in the town’s residential zone did so with the understanding they wouldn’t be living next door to farm animals.

The town also has ample available agriculturally zoned land, Mr. Button said.

But Mr. Grover said: “We’re just starting the process. It seems too premature to be saying, ‘I’m opposed to chickens.’ Let the process play out.”

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