Farmer trumps zoning

Agency determines farmer Kitchen may slaughter chickens in Copake

COPAKE—The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has determined the town’s prohibition of on-farm slaughterhouses in an agricultural district “unreasonably restricts farm operations in possible violation” of Agriculture and Markets Law.

Robert Somers, manager of the department’s Agricultural Protection Unit, sent a letter to Supervisor Jeff Nayer and Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Hillary Thomas detailing his review of farmer Robert Kitchen’s application to build a slaughterhouse or facility where the farmer could kill and process chickens and turkeys raised on his Pigasso Farm.

The letter, dated September 12, came up at the October 10 Town Board meeting.

In May 2012 Mr. Kitchen, who owns and operates the farm at 500 Farm Road with his wife, Heather, was denied a permit by the building inspector because operation of a slaughterhouse is not a permitted use in Copake. He was also subsequently denied a use variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In June of this year, Mr. Kitchen and his attorney, Mitch Khosrova, brought their case to the Town Board, asking that the Town Code be speedily amended to permit the processing of farm-raised birds onsite.

The Kitchens raise a variety of animals for meat. In addition to chickens, they have pigs, cattle, lambs and turkeys around the holidays. They sell the meat at their onsite farm stand, at a local farmers’ market and to area restaurants.

Mr. Kitchen currently ships his animals and poultry to an off-site slaughterhouse for processing.

He wants to process 2,800 chickens and 40 turkeys per year at the farm. His plan is to process 100 chickens at a time, one day a week for six hours, seven months per year, May through November. If Mr. Kitchen is allowed to do the processing himself, it will save him $14,000 annually. He currently pays a processor $6/bird, when he could do it himself for $2.25. He said the weekly waste generated by the processing would not fill a 30-gallon garbage can, including blood, feet and all unused portions of the birds.

If the farmer already had a processing facility, under state Agriculture and Markets Law he would be exempt from town rule and he could process 1,000 chickens per year without a permit. Because he wants to process 2,800 birds annually, he will also need an Ag and Markets permit and the state will monitor his operation.

At the June meeting, Supervisor Nayer turned the matter over to two town-appointed committees: the Land Use Review Committee (LURC) and the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Committee (AFPC) for their recommendations on the subject. Both committees have been reviewing the matter since then.

In a memo received at the October 10 Town Board meeting from AFPC Co-chair Edgar Masters, he wrote, “We have been discussing the issue of processing poultry and small animals on farms in our town. This is a complicated issue with federal and state regulations, residents’ concerns, and farmers’ needs. While these matters are still in open discussion, it appears that our committee will recommend a limited processing change to zoning for fowl and small animals.” Small animals refers to rabbits.

In his review for Ag and Markets, Mr. Somers wrote that construction of on-farm buildings and the use of land in a certified agricultural district for agricultural purposes should not be subject to site plan reviews, special use permits or non-conforming use requirements. “The purpose of an agricultural district is to encourage the development and improvement of agricultural land and the use of agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products….”

Mr. Kitchen told The Columbia Paper this week that his understanding is that the Town law will be re-written.

“I’m discouraged that it took a little time and we had to put out quite a bit of money to get it settled.” He thinks the delay is partially his own fault for not hiring an attorney right off the bat. “But I didn’t think it was that elaborate of a request. We’re living in a farming community; I thought they’d say: Let’s help the farmer.”

Mr. Kitchen expects it will take until next spring for him to start doing his own processing because he still will have to build a facility once it is a permitted use.

The Town Board expects to discuss the matter again at the November 14 meeting when it has formal recommendations from the AFPC, the LURC and Town Attorney Ken Dow in hand.

In other business the Town Board:

*Agreed to hire a secretary for the LURC, which has been devoting much time to deciding who should write the minutes and arguing over their accuracy. Mr. Nayer said that with the hiring of a secretary to handle minutes, the committee should be able to finish its review of the Town Code by the end of 2014. “If things don’t get better, we’ll pull the secretary,” he said.

*Received a petition signed by 78 residents stating “the great need” for a local pharmacy in the Roe Jan area. The petitioners asked the board to consider a “tax incentive” to encourage a pharmacy to re-locate locally. The former Copake Pharmacy closed its doors in April 2012.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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