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Canton town board scraps rezoning plan

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CANTON — Faced with a large crowd that became hostile at times, the Town Council on Monday scrapped a rezoning proposal that would have converted some rural areas of the town into residential zones and imposed more restrictions on property owners.

Roughly 60 people crowded into the basement of the municipal meeting, with many questioning why any zoning changes are needed and what motivated the board to start the process.

“There must be some driving force behind this. Tell me why you’re coming up with this,” said Andrew Hurlbut, a farmer and maple syrup producer.

Two board members, Supervisor David T. Button and Councilman Paul F. Backus, recused themselves from portions of the discussion because they own property that would be affected by the zoning changes.

“The perception is that people on the board are doing this for their own benefit,” Mr. Backus said. “If that’s the perception, I’m not going to be a part of it,”

Several people said a residential zone means more restrictions and they didn’t like the idea of government imposing more controls on their land.

“Agriculture is the blood and guts of this county. Let’s leave this town alone,” said Lee Pierce, Schoolhouse Road.

After listening to opposition, the board chose not to vote on rezoning 168 parcels from rural to residential including, County Route 32, Finnegan, Barnes, Pike, Judson Street and Ames Road and County Route 27.

The board also voted 5-0 against rezoning a portion of State Street Road and Route 310 from rural to business.

Planning Board Chairman Michael K. Morgan said that area has evolved over the past several years with the addition of the Maplewood nursing home and Smile Care dental offices and rezoning may encourage more professional office buildings and other development.

That proposal drew sharp opposition from Corey M. Hayes, whose family operates a sheep farm at 268 Route 310.

The 21-year-old said government regulations discourage people from keeping their farms, and he believes rezoning would eventually result in higher property taxes on their farmland.

“The land you are talking about is my entire farm,” Mr. Hayes said. “This is going to be one hungry country if we don’t encourage people to get into agriculture.”

The board also failed to act on four other zoning-related changes, including a measure that would have allowed non-domesticated animals in residential areas.

Mr. Backus said he felt the proposal needed more work from the town Planning Board before it’s considered by the town board.

However, the board did support a proposal to change a portion of County Route 27 — known as Russell Road — from rural to commercial. The change would run from the village line to Pike Road.

The board directed attorney Charles B. Nash to craft a local law designating the change. That step will be followed by a public hearing and required environmental review.

Richard W. Grover argued against encouraging more commercial activity on Russell Road.

“This is largely wetland that’s not really suitable for commercial development,” Mr. Grover said. “More commercial development would add to the inefficiencies and safety hazards on that road.”

Pressed repeatedly to explain why the town should revise any of its existing zones, Mr. Morgan said the changes could encourage additional homes and businesses to locate in Canton, which generates more property taxes for the town’s coffers.

“Our sole intent was to increase the tax base, bring more dollars home,” Mr. Morgan said. “It’s my job to look 25 years in the future.”

Duane H. Curtis credited the town board for responding to the public’s concerns.

“I believe they’ve really listened to the people this time,” Mr. Curtis said. “It’s going in the right direction. This is the way a democracy is supposed to work.”

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