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Brasher farmer’s operation stymied by town acreage requirements

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BRASHER FALLS - A Brasher man is hoping the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals will give him authorization to keep animals on his property that doesn’t meet the town’s minimum acreage requirement for livestock.

Dale Matthews said his property on the Upper Ridge Road is 1.8 acres, but the minimum acreage required to have animals is five acres. The property is zoned rural residential.

“We have a zoning law - at least five acres for farm animals,” Town Supervisor M. James Dawson told Mr. Matthews during this week’s town board meeting.

He said the rationale behind the law wasn’t to keep people from having farm animals, but to ensure there weren’t neighbor issues with farm-related matters such as noise, manure control and odor control. With less than five acres, one neighbor might object to having animals too close to their home, Mr. Dawson said.

“It is country. In our defense, we’re not going to have livestock production. The majority of the livestock is on a different parcel. They tell me a horse on five acres is way too much,” Mr. Matthews said, noting he raises cows and his daughter rides horses.

Mr. Matthews said he had applied for a variance from the town, but the Zoning Board of Appeals never met because they were without a chairperson. He plans to go that route again.

“As long as I apply for a variance, I’m allowed to have livestock,” he told board members.

In the meantime, he said a representative from the Cornell Cooperative Extension has visited his farm and found nothing that would preclude him from having some animals on the property. Mr. Matthews has also been in contact with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to see if they can assist him. Town officials have received a letter from Ag and Markets, inquiring about any safety or health hazards at Mr. Matthews’s farm.

“The town code is restricting my operation, therefore Ag’s going to step in,” he said. “Brasher’s the only one around with five acres. Even Cornell couldn’t believe it.”

Mr. Matthews reiterated that the number of animals on the property would be “very minimal.” He said, for instance, that if they needed to separate a newborn calf from other animals, that animal would be brought to the Upper Ridge road property, where he has an electric fence to keep animals in and said has never had any safety issues.

“The animals have never been out of that fence,” he said. “I’m not looking at a big operation. I just want to make it easy and make it safe and there’s no issues. I’m not trying to have 100 cows.”

Mr. Dawson told Mr. Matthews that he would contact Ag and Markets officials “and give them our position on it,” and he recommended that Mr. Matthews apply again for a variance.

“We have a zoning law, and he (Code Enforcement Officer Robert Forbes) is hired to enforce the zoning law,” he said. “I’d want to know what Ag and Markets says before making a decision.”

Mr. Dawson said Friday that he has since been in contact with Ag and Markets officials, who indicated they would review Mr. Matthews’s concerns, but he would be required in the interim to abide by the local zoning laws until they made their decision.

“He said until Ag and Markets makes a decision, the local person has to abide by the local zoning laws,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, said, “We are in contact with both Mr. Matthews and the town on this matter. Mr. Matthews has filed a request for the Department of Agriculture and Markets to formally review the matter under Section 305a of Ag and Markets law, which pertains to local regulations and the impact they have on farm operations. The department has sent a letter to the town asking for information on the matter. The town has responded verbally to us. A case is officially open and as such we are not in a position to comment on the specifics of our discussions.”

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