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Planning board recommends changes to proposed Canton chicken law

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POTSDAM — The St. Lawrence County Planning Board picked apart proposed town of Canton laws regulating the raising of chickens and community-supported agriculture projects in residential zones Thursday, suggesting local leaders should give them more thought.

The town and its Planning Board have tried at every opportunity in recent years to promote development at the expense of small farms and sustainable agriculture, Canton resident Peter E. Van de Water told the Planning Board.

“That’s an approach that can lead to the kind of urban sprawl you can find anywhere else,” he said.

County Planning Board staff and members, who met at the Potsdam Town Hall along with about 30 Canton residents, noted the struggles that the town is going through to mesh the interests of a local food movement in backyard chickens and CSAs against the limits of its residential zones, which allow property owners to have rural homes similar to those within village limits minus village taxes — without the potential nuisance of living next to farm animals.

The town’s most recent attempt to regulate chickens in residential zones by special permit set standards that would better be solved in other ways, the county board determined.

“What they’re envisioning and what’s in the law are two different things,” Planning Board Chairman Thomas L. Jenison said.

The county board did not go along with member Douglas B. Welch’s suggestion that it recommend exempting the possession of a dozen chickens or fewer from the special-use permit requirement.

“It’s ridiculous to be putting people through this for 12 birds,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that gives government a bad name.”

However, the Planning Board agreed that the town should consider regulations on setbacks, fencing and buffers, waste management, a maximum number of birds and a minimum square footage per bird, rather than mandating a three-acre lot size; clarify the definition of the fowl it intends to allow and eliminate the requirement of neighbor consent because it could create inequities.

The board made similar recommendations for the proposed law regulating CSAs, suggesting mandatory setbacks rather than acreage size, requiring safe parking and clarifying what is allowed.

“I feel like this is a law in search of a problem to solve,” Mr. Welch said.

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