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Brasher farmer seeks assistance from town board

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BRASHER FALLS - A resident who was told he couldn’t keep livestock on his property because it didn’t meet the minimum acreage requirementshas taken his case to the Brasher Town Board.

The town’s zoning board of appeals had denied Dale Matthews an area variance to house livestock at his Upper Ridge Road home because the property is 1.8 acres and the minimum requirement is 5 acres.

Mr. Matthews, who plans to appeal the board’s decision, was advised by Code Enforcement Officer Robert W. Forbes last week that he was in violation of the town code and had until March 31 to remove a horse from the property.

“This week he received a citation. He still has an animal there. The case has not yet been settled,” Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said during Friday’s special meeting.

Mr. Matthews, who said he planned to remove the horse from the property, said he should not have been cited in the first place. He said his research indicated the animals could stay on his property until he appeals the zoning board’s decision.

“The big issue is I don’t have the paperwork from the denial. I can’t appeal it until I have the denial. Then I have 60 days (to appeal). I don’t think it’s right,” he told town board members.

Mr. Matthews said he had originally told Mr. Forbes he wanted to apply for a variance to house livestock on the property. However, Mr. Matthews alleged, Mr. Forbes told him that he could not receive a variance and served him with a 30-day notice to remove the livestock.

At that point, Mr. Matthews said, he talked to a neighbor, who told him he could apply for a variance through Mr. Forbes. He said he also called the county planning office, who told him he could apply for a variance, which he did on June 20. However, the zoning board of appeals had no chairperson at the time and did not meet until March 13 to consider Mr. Matthews’s application.

In the meantime, a complaint was filed by a neighbor, and he was charged with having livestock and was served by a deputy from the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

“Rather than fight, I took the animals off the property,” Mr. Matthews said. “I went to court last June. They had no paperwork here. Now I’m getting charged again.”

He said he has been told last week to take this horse off his property or he will be ordered to court. But, he suggested, no action should be taken until he receives his paperwork from the zoning board of appeals and has exhausted his appeal process.

“I don’t believe we can be charged with anything until we receive our official paperwork from the zoning board of appeals, and they have to give us 30 days to remove the livestock,” Mr. Matthews said, suggesting no action could be taken while the appeal was working through the channels.

Mr. Dawson said that he would be happy to talk with Town Justice John Burns to see if the deadline for removing the horse could be extended for a week.

“I’m just trying to accommodate him,” he said.

But some councilmen said they didn’t think the town board should be involved since the zoning board of appeals had already issued their decision.

“We shouldn’t be volunteering to put it off for a week. Mr. Matthews should go to the judge,” Councilman John M. Keenan said. “The judicial system works. I think you should be talking to Judge Burns. For us to intervene I think is wrong.”

Councilman Mark Peets agreed.

“As a board, we can’t really persuade the judge. We’re kind of taking our lead from the zoning board. There may be a way to get this thing put in stay. But I don’t think we can legally say, ‘Let’s hold off,’” he said.

“I just don’t want to keep defending myself against accusations. I want to comply,” Mr. Matthews said. “I have the option to appeal the zoning board of appeals decision. But I can’t do that until I get the paperwork.”

Mr. Peets asked Mr. Matthews if he had spoken to the town justice to try and resolve the situation.

“Maybe you should talk to the judge,” he said.

“I am in violation if I don’t remove the horse. I don’t want to go that route. I want to comply, but I want someone to work with me,” Mr. Matthews said.

He told board members that he had been advised if he was under pressure from Brasher officials to remove the horse and something happened to the animal the board could be held liable.

“I take that as a threat,” Mr. Keenan said. “You do what you have to do. You’re a big boy. I suggest you talk to Mr. Burns. That’s the end of the conversation.”

“No, I’m going to remove the horse,” Mr. Matthews said.

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