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Department of Agriculture and Markets checking Brasher zoning regulations

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BRASHER FALLS - The town of Brasher’s zoning regulations are getting a look over after a resident was denied an area variance last week to house livestock on his Upper Ridge Road property.

Dale Matthews had sought the variance because his property is 1.8 acres and the town’s zoning regulations require at least 5 acres to house livestock. The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied the variance request, citing concerns about setting a precedent. They also expressed concern that the variance would remain with the land for years to come, causing possible problems for future residents in that neighborhood.

But the denial of a variance doesn’t mean the situation is resolved. Mr. Matthews, who said his land is zoned as an agricultural district, had enlisted the aid of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, and that office’s investigation is on-going.

“The Department of Agriculture and Markets is reviewing the town of Brasher’s Zoning Code and the administration of its local law as applied to Mr. Matthews pursuant to his case. We continue to work with both Mr. Matthews and town officials to try and resolve this issue,” Department of Agriculture and Markets Public Information Officer Joe Morrissey said in an emailed statement.

“Their concern is my land is in the ag district now. Ag and Markets have become involved now,” Mr. Matthews told Zoning Board of Appeals members.

But Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Stacy Dutch said they had to abide by the town’s zoning regulations when making their decision.

“Even though it’s in an ag district, it still has to meet the zoning rules of Brasher. You either meet them or have a variance to them. I don’t believe you can just say, ‘I’m in an ag district and I can do anything I want.’ The rule is 5 acres. Ag and Markets may feel different,” Mr. Dutch said.

Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said Monday that they are working with Ag and Markets officials to resolve the situation.

“I think if comes back to the town board. If they override us, they override us. They can do it. I think the root of this thing comes back to the town board for the town board to make a decision,” he said. M. Dawson said the objective of establishing a 5-acre minimum was to ensure neighbors weren’t disturbed by a farming operation.

“I don’t think our code is too restrictive. We had it for a particular purpose - to keep some order in the community. We tried to make it orderly,” he said.

He said that, until the issue is resolved they aren’t requiring Mr. Matthews to remove animals from his Upper Ridge Road home.

“I have no problem with Mr. Matthews. I applaud anybody that’s trying to farm these days,” Mr. Dawson said.

Code Enforcement Officer Robert W. Forbes told Zoning Board of Appeals members that he was aware Mr. Matthews had animals on the property, but told him it would not be an issue unless there was a complaint. He reported in his June 2013 monthly code enforcement officer report that a complaint had been filed and Mr. Matthews was instructed to remove the animals.

Mr. Matthews told board members that animals are primarily brought to the residence from his farm on Hopson Road if they’re in need of care and are then returned to the Hopson Road site.

He said, for instance, that if a calf was born and the mother died it would need special attention. He said the Hopson Road property had no utilities and they would need heat to make water bottles and also use a heat lamp to nurse the animal back to health. He said was told it would cost $4,000 to bring electrical service to it.

Mr. Dutch said that, in making their decision, they had to go by the town’s zoning regulations although they had a letter from the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

“(The letter) may at some time make a difference. It does not affect our decision because it’s not in place yet. If Ag and Markets says (the code) is too restrictive, it’s not the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the town of Brasher. If the Zoning Board of Appeals does not grant the variance, they (Ag and Markets) would come back to the town and ask why they are keeping the rules they have. Ag and Markets could come back and say it’s overruled. We’re going down that path already. Whichever way we rule, I would expect them to come back,” he said.

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