Canton Farmland Zoning

From the Watertown Daily TImes
Canton rezoning proposal creates flap

FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2012

CANTON — A controversial plan to rezone several roads from rural to residential has been handed off to the Town Council.

After being peppered with objections by opponents, the town Planning Board decided this week to provide its review to the town board “without recommendation.”

“We didn’t cave. We listened to the people, and we’re responding to our constituents,” Planning Board Chairman Michael K. Morgan said. “My personal opinion is we should go forward, but when you have an issue this contentious, it’s really for the town board.”

The proposed revision involves extending the boundaries of the town’s Residential R-1 district along County Route 27, Hale Road, Pike Road, Finnegan Road, Ames Road, Judson Street Road and County Route 32.

If adopted, roughly 4,450 acres would be rezoned from rural to residential, affecting 168 parcels.

“People are concerned their way of life is being seized,” said Elia Filippi, a DeKalb resident who owns several Canton properties.

The plan is drawing fire from Mr. Filippi and others because the town’s residential zone is more restrictive than its rural zone. That means fewer uses would be allowed unless a special use permit were granted to the owner.

A residential zone prohibits owners from having livestock, poultry, cows, sheep, goats, pheasants and other farm animals. A special use permit also would be required to harbor non-domestic animals that require at least three acres per animal, such as wolves, bears, coyotes, foxes or venomous reptiles.

Agriculture and agribusiness, which are allowed in a rural zone, would be prohibited.

Other banned uses include mobile homes, mobile home parks, multiple-family dwellings, small rural businesses, kennels and animal hospitals, recreational facilities, junkyards and transfer stations, airports and helicopter landing sites.

After its review of the proposal, the St. Lawrence County Planning Board issued a written recommendation against the rezoning.

“A consequence of this zone change forces all of these non-permitted uses to be located further away from Canton’s central commercial core,” county planning staff wrote.

Mr. Morgan said existing property owners would be grandfathered in so they would not be subject to the restrictions.

However, if they halted their noncomforming activity for a year or more, such as taking a year off from farming, their property would lose its exempt status and be restricted by the residential zone.

Supporters of the rezoning argue that the sections being considered are mostly on the outskirts of the village and have evolved into residential areas.

Expanding the residential zone may encourage people to buy or build houses there, a trend that would boost the town’s property tax base, they claim.

“No offense to anyone in agriculture, but not everyone wants to live next to agriculture,” Mr. Morgan said. “There is nothing sinister in this. We are trying to provide a wider choice of places for people to settle.”

He said it’s been falsely claimed that being a residential zone would place owners in a higher property tax category.

“That is completely false. It’s based on use, not zone,” Mr. Morgan said.

Town Supervisor David T. Button said a 2010 survey of community residents showed a demand for housing sites outside the village limits.

Developing more residential properties also was identified as the top priority in the Canton Community Action Plan published in 2008. The lengthy, detailed document created a road map for Canton’s future, addressing issues in the village and the town.

“Canton (town) is in growth mode for single-family residents,” Mr. Button said. “That’s good business for Canton and that helps keep our tax rate low.”

Mr. Filippi said in many parts of the country the trend is to place fewer restrictions on property, not more, and things such as hobby farms have become more acceptable in residential areas.

Making changes for the benefit of potential buyers is unfair to existing Canton property owners, he said.

“People who now live in those rural areas don’t need to be encumbered by legislation that would be for an imaginary, hypothetical home buyer,” he said.

Both the county and town planning boards are advisory groups that make recommendations, but do not have the power to enact zoning changes. The town board has the authority to pass zoning changes within the town. However, with the recommendation against the action by the county Planning Board, it will take a supermajority, or four out of five votes, to pass the zoning change.

The town board meets again at 4 p.m. May 14.

“We will just pass this on and they can determine whether or not they want to move forward,” Mr. Morgan said.