I have attended three public board meetings regarding the creation of a special permit process for small-scale agriculture in Cantons residential zone. At the first meeting, town Supervisor David Button assured the many in attendance that the board was in favor of small agriculture. He even discouraged us from speaking, saying we could talk as much as we wanted but that the board already agreed with us.
Many chose to speak, citing economic, health and environmental benefits of local agriculture. Students, professionals, families and lifelong residents all spoke in favor. I left the meeting thinking the board would be drafting legislation to make growing food in the residential zone easier.
I was to be disappointed. At the most recent public meeting on this issue, two draft amendments were presented that, rather than helping residents legally grow produce for sale or raise poultry for their own consumption, instead set arbitrary and unreasonable limits on their ability to even apply for a special permit. Both require a minimum of three acres of land before a permit application can be considered.
Several raised objections to the acreage minimum, citing various concerns. Isnt it unnecessary when the permit process already requires the applicant to prove they have the proper setup for the proposed activity? Is three acres really necessary to raise a chicken? Why should residential zoning be more restrictive than the villages, which has no minimum acreage requirement?
Mr. Button only stated that some people objected to creating a permit process, so the minimum was a compromise between those in favor and those against. Strange compromise, as the minimum means only 56 of 239 parcels in the residential zone could even apply for a special permit. At the meetings I attended, only one person opposed creating new allowances for residential agriculture.
I was disappointed at this meeting. Disappointed that the board at this public meeting held their discussion in whispers, so that we had to strain to hear and had to ask to be told what had been decided. Disappointed that they did not answer our questions. And particularly disappointed that, when pressed, they said they would not be addressing the three-acre minimum and would not state why. Why shouldnt the town board be expected to provide reasoning for their decisions? And why are they making it so difficult for Canton residents to grow their own food?