By Lauren Zaepfel
The Wheatfield Town Board is considering a change in code to allow farming on town land zoned rural-residential after a public hearing Monday night.
The proposed change was recommended by the Town Task Force's Agricultural Focus Group and is one of the first suggestions within the town's agricultural protection plan being discussed.
Drew Reilly, engineer at Wendel representing the task force, said several farms already exist on town land zoned rural-residential. These farms include those that have been grandfathered down through generations.
Reilly said, although landowners may continue to farm as an existing, nonconforming use in R-R districts, not changing the code could present problems to farmers in the future who try and sell their property as farmland or stopped farming for a year.
"This is one of the recommendations in the (agricultural protection plan) program that doesn't cost anything and it's a no brainer," Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said Monday night.
"If somebody were to let their farm go dormant, either due to a death in the family, through probate or any other reasons, and they want to start farming again a year later, our building inspector would have to tell them 'No.' They would be breaking the code. ... Technically, they cannot farm on those properties at that point. And you sure don't want them to all become homes."
Most of the R-R districts border agricultural-residential zoned land and are located along the east and northeast borders of the town.
"If you go and you drive down Shawnee Road, take a left hand turn on Lockport Road and spend all your time looking to your right. Almost all you're going to see is farms," Cliffe said. "You might see some houses right along the road, but it's all farms in behind and that's rural-residential. ... In our zoning, that's all rural-residential, which says that farming's not allowed."
The board unanimously approved a negative declaration of SEQR for the proposed code change, ruling the change would not adversely affect the environment. However, board members did not vote on the actual change Monday night due to some additional restrictions that may be added.
Reilly said, although the R-R changes are modeled after agricultural-residential offerings, there are some additional proposed changes that are still being developed and inputted. One of these changes includes a restriction that farming cannot take place on an existing residential home lot of less than two acres or on a lot within a subdivision, even if more than two acres in size.
"Imagine living in a residential subdivision and the person next door says, 'I'm going to be a farm now. And I'm going to (have) goats and pigs and whatever in my backyard," Reilly said.
Cliffe said the updated proposal might be voted on during the next meeting.
In other news
•The board agreed to pay Hoppy's Tree Service $14,985 to remove 23 trees throughout the town, due to the emerald ash borer problem. Town Highway Superintendent Paul Siegmann said these trees are in the "town right of way and they're dead." The same tree service recently removed 39 dying trees that were located near the town's Youth Center.