Copake readies draft of slaughterhouse rules

COPAKE—It has been several months in the making, but the Town Board now has the draft of a local law allowing and regulating slaughterhouses in town.

The board will conduct a public hearing on the new law at a special meeting Thursday, January 23 beginning at 6 p.m. Following the public hearing that night, the board will consider adopting the proposed local law which is an amendment to Town Zoning Code.

The new regulation came about at the request of farmer Robert Kitchen who, along with his wife, Heather, owns and operates Pigasso Farm at 500 Farm Road. They raise a variety of animals for meat, including chickens, 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.

In May 2012, the town building inspector denied Mr. Kitchen a permit to build a slaughterhouse or facility where the he could kill and process chickens and turkeys raised on farm because the operation of a slaughterhouse was not a permitted use in Copake. He was also subsequently denied a use variance by the town Zoning Board of Appeals.

In June of last 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.

Mr. Kitchen currently ships his animals and poultry to an off-site slaughterhouse for processing. But he could save thousands of dollars if allowed to do the poultry slaughtering himself.

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. He will save $14,000 annually by doing the processing himself. 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 other unused portions of the birds.

In September, the town received a letter from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) in which Robert Somers, manager of the department’s Agricultural Protection Unit, said the town’s prohibition of on-farm slaughterhouses in an agricultural district “unreasonably restricts farm operations in possible violation” of state law.

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. Somers wrote.

Last June Town Supervisor Jeff 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. Both committees have been reviewing an outline of a slaughterhouse law obtained from Ag and Markets since then. Once everyone had weighed in on it, Town Attorney Ken Dow wrote the town’s draft slaughterhouse law and turned it over to the Town Board at the January 9 meeting.

The stated purpose of the new law is “to accommodate farms in Copake so that they can slaughter, process or sell their farm products in a manner that balances the needs of those farmers and nearby residents.”

The new law applies “to any poultry or rabbit processing facility that slaughters and/or processes between 1,001 and 8,000 poultry birds or rabbits, or between 256 and 2,000 turkeys per year.” One turkey shall be counted as four poultry birds, according to the law, and facilities that slaughter or process more than 8,000 rabbits or birds, or 2,000 turkeys per year are not allowed.

The processing facility must be located on the same premises as the farm and before a building permit is issued for a processing facility, the applicant must obtain a modified site plan approval from the Planning Board. The applicant will have to submit a map; sketches of the parcel, property borders, buildings, site features, arrangement of land uses, signs, blueprints, lighting and pay a fee.

The “purpose of the modified site plan review is to ensure the health and safety of residents in any adjacent homes and, to the maximum extent practicable, to minimize or avoid adverse effects upon the environment and adjacent residences,” says the law.

The processing facility must be on a single parcel of seven acres minimum; must be set back a minimum of 200 feet from any property line and must be located a minimum of 100 feet from any stream, pond, lake, or other water body or wetland.

The draft law is available on the town’s website or from the town clerk.

Mr. Kitchen told The Columbia Paper this week by phone that he thinks the new law is fair, although the length of time it has taken to get it this far has “held up what I need to do to get started in the spring.”

To contact Diane Valden email .

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