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Proposed Canton chicken law more restrictive than other area towns

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CANTON — When town of Potsdam property owners who live in a residential zone outside the village seek permission to raise a few chickens for their family’s use, Code Enforcement Officer James A. Plumley said he’s required to say “yes.”

By contrast, in neighboring Canton, Code Enforcement Officer Russell B. Lawrence IV is technically supposed to give the opposite answer.

When it comes to poultry and other farm animals, St. Lawrence County’s major towns have different zoning laws on the books, but as it stands, Canton has the most restrictive.

Canton town officials have spent months wrestling with a controversial proposal that would allow people living in residential zones outside the village to raise chickens and cockerels. The town board may require residents to have a minimum of 3 acres.

It also is considering a second law that would permit community supported agriculture projects such as community gardens in residential parts of the town, such as sections of Miner Street Road, Pike Road, Hale Road, Judson Street Road and Route 310.

At the town board’s March 12 meeting, Town Supervisor David T. Button said he felt the proposed 3-acre minimum was “generous” because the town of Potsdam requires a minimum of 10 acres for residential property owners who wanted to raise chickens.

However, Mr. Plumley said the 10-acre minimum is necessary only for commercial operations and doesn’t apply to Potsdam town residents who want to have poultry and gardens for their own family’s use.

“If you’re not doing this for commercial gain, you can have them. I can’t stop them,” Mr. Plumley said. “If the neighbors complain, then I can do something about it.”

Mr. Button said the 3-acre minimum parcel size is a compromise between those advocating for chickens in a residential zone and those who are opposed.

“Given the fact that we’ve never allowed nondomestic animals, this might represent a good first step,” Mr. Button said. “If over time we find people who want animals can coexist with those who don’t, we can revisit this.”

Although only two town residents have come to meetings voicing concerns about changing the town’s zoning code, the supervisor said they are not the only ones out there.

“Several board members have heard from people in the community who are concerned. They are trying to listen to everybody,” he said.

Some town board members have said those who want farm animals should buy property in the town’s rural zone rather than remain living in a residential zone.

Mr. Plumley said Potsdam residents aren’t required to obtain written consent from their neighbors if they want to raise poultry. The proposed Canton law requires applicants to get a sign-off from all of their neighbors.

“In Potsdam, it’s never up to the neighbors for the simple reason that sometime neighbors don’t like each other,” he said.

In the town of Massena, livestock and fowl are allowed in residential zones if the applicant receives site plan approval from the town’s Planning Board. However, the village of Massena zoning code prohibits rabbits, poultry and livestock.

The village of Canton allows residents to raise chickens if all of the adjoining neighbors agree.

In Gouverneur, chickens are allowed in both the village and town. Gouverneur town and village property owners with less than 2 acres are required to obtain a use variance from the town’s zoning Board of Appeals.

Gouverneur Code Enforcement Officer Michael J. McQuade said those with more than 2 acres are allowed to proceed without obtaining any permit.

He said he hasn’t had any problems related to people raising chickens and he thinks the 3-acre minimum proposed by Canton is too restrictive.

“Three acres is pretty big. It seems they’re making it so restrictive it would be impossible for people to do what they want,” Mr. McQuade said.

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