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Brasher man denied area variance to house farm animals on his property

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BRASHER FALLS - A Brasher man was denied an area variance Thursday night to keep animals on his property that doesn’t meet the town’s minimum acreage requirements for livestock.

Dale Matthews owns 1.8 acres of property on the Upper Ridge Road, but the town’s minimum acreage requirement to have animals is 5 acres. He told Zoning Board of Appeals members that his property is zoned as an agricultural district and 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.

“I’m not looking to raise them at my house. It’s something I’m doing to make the rest of my operation profitable,” he said. “I didn’t know there was any kind of code like this (when purchasing the property). It’s out in the country. It’s all farms.”

But Zoning Board of Appeals members, in denying the area variance, said they were concerned that approving it would set a precedent for others who wanted to keep livestock on less than 5 acres of property. They also said that the variance would stay with the property once it was granted, which might cause issues down the road for future residents in that neighborhood.

Voting against the variance were Chairman Stacy Dutch and board member John Kesner. Board member Keitha Arquiette voted in favor of approving it.

Mr. Kesner said that, although he personally knew that the fence line and barn on the Upper Ridge Road property were well-maintained, the difference between Mr. Matthews’s acreage and the minimum required acreage was his biggest concern.

“Your fences are well-maintained. Your barn is well-maintained. From my perspective, its unfortunate you don’t have more acres,” he said.

“I’ve thought about this a lot. I tried to ask questions and explain a lot of things that concern me. It comes back to how much of a difference there is between 1.8 and 5 acres. I can’t see where we can set a precedent. I don’t think we’re doing the law justice by allowing that variance to happen. It would up an avenue for a lot of people to do the wrong thing,” Mr. Dutch said.

Ms. Arquiette, however, felt differently.

“I would approve it. They live in the country. I don’t see a problem. You want to remember, we live in Brasher. It should be quite simple to live in the country,” she said.

Code Enforcement Robert W. Forbes told board members that he was aware Mr. Matthews was keeping animals on the Upper Ridge Road property, but told him it wouldn’t be an issue unless somebody complained.

“Two years before the complaint I discussed the issue with Mr. Matthews. I told him I knew there was cattle, but I was not going to say a word until I received a complaint,” he said.

In his June 2013 monthly code enforcement officer report to Brasher Town Board members, he said he received a complaint from Joe Neault, 228 Upper Ridge Road, on April 23, 2013. Mr. Forbes said he investigated the property on April 25 and found livestock that included cows, pigs and chickens fenced in next to Mr. Matthews’s house. He said Thursday night that Mr. Neault had been the only complaint he had received about the property.

“I informed Mr. Matthews he was in violation of the town of Brasher’s local zoning laws, and told Mr. Matthews he needed a minimum of (5) five acres to house livestock. I gave Mr. Matthews 30 days to remove the livestock from the premises,” Mr. Forbes wrote in his report.

However, he said, that didn’t happen and he attempted unsuccessfully to serve him with a ticket to appear in court on June 18. Mr. Forbes said a similar effort by a deputy sheriff from the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department was also unsuccessful.

Mr. Neault, who was in attendance Thursday night, shared his concerns with board members.

“My complaint wasn’t for how many animals. It was for how many animals he had in one little area. He had pigs and cows together it one little area. It wasn’t the smell,” he said, a charge that Mr. Matthews denied.

Mr. Matthews said that there were times when they would need to bring animals to their Upper Ridge Road property to care for them. 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.

“We need utilities,” he said. “If you’re not right there, they’ll die on you. They dehydrate real quick. When you have a calf that’s dehydrated, you go out and pump them with electrolytes and start getting them back to health. When they’re healthy you put them back in the herd. That’s where I want them to be.”

He also said his children are involved with 4-H and having animals at the Upper Ridge Road site makes it easier for them to tend to the animals.

“It’s not to raise animals start to finish. It’s something we need to do for the health of the cattle. It would be a hardship if the calf’s mother dies at birth and the calf needs to be fed. Where am I going to feed it?” he asked.

Mr. Matthews said that a representative from the Cornell Cooperative Extension has visited his farm and found nothing that would preclude him from having animals on the property. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has also gotten involved, but have been waiting for a decision from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals before moving further with the case.

“We’ve contacted them all. They say it (the zoning code) is over-restrictive. I think it’s overly restrictive for people who want to live in the country,” Mr. Matthews said.

Mr. Dutch said he understood the concern, but the board’s hands were bound by the zoning regulation they were appointed to enforce.

“I totally understand the need to be near livestock. As a Zoning Board of Appeals, we have the rules in front of us. That is what this board has to look at,” he said.

He also noted that they were in possession of a letter from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, but that could not affect their decision. Mr. Dutch said that if Ag and Markets found the town’s zoning code to be too restrictive, they would have to address that with the town board.

They also had to look to the potential future consequences of granting a variance, he said.

“We have to take into consideration the property owners around you. Those property owners can change. All those parcels could change hands. This variance will be forever. The use permit stays with that property,” he said.

An additional concern was the uncertainty to limit the number of animals on the property if they granted the variance.

“I don’t know if we could limit it. A use is a use,” Mr. Dutch said.

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