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Brasher farmer seeking to counter 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 Upper Ridge Road is 1.8 acres, but the minimum acreage required to have animals is 5 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 Wednesday’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 and manure and odor control. With less than 5 acres, one neighbor might object to having animals too close to his 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 it was without a chairperson. He plans to take 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 Cornell Cooperative Extension has visited his farm and found nothing that would preclude him from having some animals on the property. Mr. Matthews also has been in contact with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to see if it 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 he 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 he 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 require him to abide by the local zoning laws in the interim until they make their decision.

In an emailed statement, Joe Morrissey, spokesman for Ag 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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