CHATHAM – At the August 24 meeting of the town Zoning Board of Appeals, members of the board determined that a grain bin built on a River Road farm does not comply with the town zoning law. But the owners of the bin say they followed the law as it is written.
The ZBA determined that, under the code, the grain bin on the farm of Donal Collins and Abi Mesick is too close to a neighboring property, although the board said Mr. Collins had presented a great deal of evidence that the grain bin needs to be in its present location.
The problem is that the zoning law for agricultural use says that in certain districts a farm building could be “within 45 feet of a neighboring property.”
The ZBA says the grain bin “is 33 feet from the beginning edge of neighboring property across River Road.”
The resolution adopted at the meeting states that the ZBA looked at the minutes of past meetings and found “that this whole provision was intended to establish some minimum setbacks.” The board’s determination was that the law means no farm building may be within 45 feet of a neighbor.
“The ZBA has fully heard Mr. Collins’ reasons for placing the grain bin in its current location; however, those reasons are not germane to the question before the ZBA in this case,” the resolution reads.
At a public hearing on the issue in July, the board talked about the meaning of the 45-foot setback and the wording. Ms. Mesick, who was at the July 27 meeting, pointed out that the law reads “within” 45 feet and does not specify that buildings must be farther than 45 feet away from neighbors, which would have been clearer.
“If it doesn’t fit, it should be rewritten, but not at our expense,” she said.
Another resident at the July meeting said the zoning should “lean towards our farmers.”
But neighbors of the property talked about impact of the building on their property.
Mr. Collins and Ms. Mesick have come before the board several times in an effort to resolve this issue after receiving a notice of violation of the town’s zoning ordinance issued by the town’s code enforcement officer.
According to the ZBA decision on the matter issued last month, in November of 2016 Mr. Collins “submitted a building permit application for the grain bin silo. On his permit application, Mr. Collins asserted that the grain silo was not in violation of the Town of Chatham Zoning Law.” In March of this year, the code enforcement officer denied the building permit due to the location of the grain bin, meaning that Mr. Collins had to seek an interpretation of zoning law from the ZBA.
At a May 25 ZBA meeting, Andy Howard, the lawyer for John and Anita Fiorillo, the neighbors of the Collins and Mesick property, called this a setback issue, not a farming issue. According the meeting minutes, “Mr. Howard adds that if the variance is granted, they are looking at a 70 to 80% variance, it is self-created and there are feasible alternative locations.”
At the August 24 meeting, Mr. Collins told the ZBA he would be back to apply for an area variance to keep the grain bin where it is.
The ZBA meets the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Chatham Town Hall on Route 295.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email