Murray decides to hold off and rework law for special events at farms

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 April 2019 at 11:21 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: Town Supervisor Robert Miller says Murray officials are trying to encourage more farms to hold special events that can strengthen the operations and draw visitors to the community.

MURRAY – The Town Board didn’t pass a new law regulating special events at farms and wineries on Tuesday, after several residents shared their concerns that the legislation could hurt the operations by imposing new restrictions.

The town will have the Planning Board and attorney Jeff Martin take another look at the law and try to address residents’ concerns.

That will push back enacting the law for at least a few months. The Town Board wanted to have the law in place to assist Kateland Farms, a miniature horse farm, with hosting weddings. The farm owned by Ted Jenney on Lake Road has been hosting weddings and special events in recent years.

However, the property currently can’t host those events, according to regulations for a residential-agriculture zoned district by the town. Murray last year agreed to allow Kateland to host scheduled weddings for 2018, but the town didn’t give approval for weddings in 2019 until Murray has a legal mechanism in place. That was the impetus for the new local law, with the town also wanting to encourage events at other farms and wineries, as long as the farms secured a special use permit with the town.

“We want to promote agri-tourism but not encroach on the neighbors,” said Town Supervisor Robert Miller. “We’re trying to strike a nice balance.”

Farms and wineries can host events if they are in an agricultural district. The Ag and Markets Department says the events are permissible as long as they don’t account for more than 30 percent of the farm’s revenue. Ag and Markets advised the town that Kateland Farms wasn’t covered under Ag & Markets for its events because weddings weren’t a direct tie to a farming operation, town attorney Jeff Martin said during Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

The town wanted to help Kateland Farms continue to host weddings and special events. The proposed local law was geared towards farms and wineries that aren’t in agricultural districts.

David Piedmonte, a Holley garlic grower, said the proposed law might prove a hindrance to farms, rather than a help.

However, the Town Board was told by some farmers who do special events now that the proposal was vague in some parts, making the farmers nervous how the law would be interpreted by the Town Planning Board and code enforcement officer.

“It was a valiant effort by the town to try to resolve this issue,” said Town Councilman Paul Hendel. “Is this law perfect? I have no idea. But if we are waiting for perfection we will spend a long time waiting.”

Amy Machamer, co-owner of Hurd Orchards, said the farm relies on events to see fruit, flowers and other farm products. Hurd has been doing events for at least 40 years.

The farm wouldn’t be affected by the town’s proposed law, attorney Martin said, because it is covered by Ag & Markets.

Machamer, however, said she remains concerned the law could be interpreted differently by town officials in the future, potentially impacting Hurd’s events. For example, the town proposed law requires 100-foot setbacks from the road for buildings. Hurd has many historic buildings that are close to the road.

The proposed law also has regulations for noise, bathrooms and other proposals to help mitigate the impact to neighbors.

“We’re trying to control it but not for the sake of controlling it,” Miller said. “It’s so it doesn’t get out of control.”

Joe Sidonio, Machamer’s husband, believes Kateland Farms is already covered in the town’s Right to Farm legislation. Sidonio said the proposed law is “overregulation” with unintended consequences.

Town officials said the law doesn’t include farms and barns that host graduation parties and family reunions – events where no profit is made.

Hendel said the town will continue to work on what he said it a “hard issue.” The town wants to help more farms to be able to sell products and host events that can help the farms supplement their income.

“I think this has the potential to be a win-win for everybody,” Hendel said.

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