A move toward more progressive ag zoning

While some larger cities, such as Chicago and Cleveland, have revised zoning codes in recent years, so residents can house chickens, I've seen smaller towns fight the idea.  In my hometown of Kent, Ohio, a place with its roots in agriculture, leaders denied such zoning changes.  It was a few years ago, and at the time, supporters couldn't believe it.  They felt the (small) city was running away from its farming heritage, trying to become metropolitan.  The irony was that the nearby metropolitan area, Cleveland, already allowed chickens and bees in residential areas.

A field at littleGrasse Works last summer in Canton. Photo courtesy littleGrasse Works.

"Canton has always been open to agriculture."

That's the word from Canton Town Supervisor David Button.  He says he's open to "new ideas" about agriculture, but needs to consider concerns about bringing farming into the town's residential areas.  Button says some long time residents don't want to look out the window and see , or hear, chickens. "We're trying to be respectful of everyone's concerns, and trying to accommodate the needs of everyone.  And we're taking our time to honor the process and honor those people who have concerns and have expressed them."

The process could take awhile.  The Town Council has decided to write two different zoning rules – one for vegetables, and one for animals.  The town attorney has been asked to present draft language at the March council meeting.

The growing season can't wait

Flip Filippi and Bob Washo represent those "new ideas," and they started this push for the zoning changes.  Flip and Bob own littleGrasse Foodworks, and run a Community Supported Agriculture program.  The farm grows vegetables on Miner Street in Canton, right by the entrance of Taylor Park.  So, they're out in the open, but they're technically illegal, because they're property is zoned residential, and so far, that doesn't allow for farming.

But changing the law is not a quick process.

Dave Button says the town attorney may be too busy to get it done by March12.  Then the town needs to hold a public hearing before zoning changes can be finalized.

In an email to NCPR, Bob Washo says, "In the mean time the clock ticks…while hopeful, we are very nervous as the 2013 growing season is rapidly approaching. While it is a couple of months before anything goes in the ground, seeds need to be started indoors as we speak."

After seeing a battle over backyard chickens back home in Kent, it's refreshing that Canton's leaders seems to be embracing the town's agricultural nature, as well as new ideas about farming and local food.  The question now is whether they can move quickly enough for folks like Bob and Flip.

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  1. Canton has always been a diverse place, with two very different colleges, a feed store right down town, a long time cheese plant in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and cows pastured right behind some of the nicest homes in town on Judson. A big vegetable garden and chickens can't possibly be as annoying at that train, which passes through two very nice residential neighborhoods, several times a day, or the near constant roar of heavy trucks passing through on Main Street.
    The people of Canton have always embraced the wide range of opportunity, from music and dance to cheese, from canoes to college hockey, and all topped with maple syrup; It is these differences which make life interesting.

  2. As an alumnus of St. Lawrence University and a fellow lover of Canton's unique cultural and physical offerings, I could not agree more with @Michael Greer's statement; in particular, the statement regarding the level of annoyance between the trains VS the chickens. Any argument which targets hen or rooster noise as a means to restrict a revamped ag zoning code is irrational, in my opinion. Having been in Canton for 4 years, I cannot count the number of times I have woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a howling train passing by; I'll take a few crows over that any day/night. If the argument by the opponents to a new code is that the train needs to pass by in the middle of the night for the purpose of economic growth/opportunity, then so too the chickens must crow in the town of Canton to provide a living for the humble farm community. Best of luck.