By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The Grand Island Town Board voted Monday to establish a local law, putting a nine-month moratorium in place for special use permit requirements in an agriculture district.
The moratorium would allow the town's agriculture committee, with advisement from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, to create an agriculture protection plan.
The resolution passed by a 3-2 vote, with Supervisor Nathan McMurray and council members Mike Madigan and Bev Kinney voting in favor and councilmen Ray Billica and Chris Aronica voting no.
During the public comment period of the meeting, several residents supported farming and what Long Road farmer Tom Thompson called the "agriculture movement" on the Island. They opposed government restrictions on farming, and specifically special use permits in the Island's agriculture district.
Steve Birtz of Fix Road said he opposed "excessive regulations on Grand Island," calling government invasive, trying to make "everyone fit one mold."
Nick Stuckert echoed Birtz, and called elimination of special use permits "a long time coming." He pointed out the economic benefits of farming as he said he's trying to start a distillery on the Island, an investment he pegged at $1 million.
Bryce Shipman of Fix Road said the state "has a rigorous process already to deem us ag district capable people." An additional town law is "just going to bottleneck the whole process."
McMurray said one of the best things happening on the Island is the ag movement, producing small business and improving the quality of life. McMurray said his opinion is that "if there is a farm use in an agriculture district, you tear up the special use permit." He proposed what he called a better option, to charge the town's agriculture committee, established last year and called the Grand Island Agricultural Plan Steering Committee, chaired by Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe, to apply for a grant to fund hiring of a consultant.
The process could take two years and would involve an analysis of zoning and regulations to determine if they are "farm friendly."
Billica said he agreed with 95 percent of what McMurray said. He said he supports the ag district and noted farm operations get protections from overly restrictive town laws.
"So you don't get a free-for-all," Billica said. He noted that in the last seven years the board has renewed every special use permit request presented.
"I don't get why a special use permit is overly restrictive," he said.
Aronica said neighbors should at least have a say in the renewals and an opportunity to speak before the board in support or opposition of special use permit renewals.
McMurray claimed there is a history of town overreach on these types of matters, concluding, "We should be out of people's business." He said when a resident is in the ag district, farming activity by definition is not a special use.
Madigan said that before 2004 there was no special use permits for ag animals and he moved to eliminate the requirements for special uses across the board. Aronica wanted protections for neighbors of agriculture, especially in high-density neighborhoods.
McMurray said he was reluctant to support Madigan's proposal until the town has a new comprehensive plan in place.
Madigan's proposal failed, 3-2, with McMurray voting in support of Madigan, and Billica, Aronica and Kinney voting against.