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farm1The Lansing Town Planning Board Monday voted to recommend acceptance of an Agricultural And Farmland Protection Plan by the Lansing Town Board.  The current 57 page document outlines recommendations to protect and encourage farming, especially in the northern half of the Town.  Two major recommendations are to appoint a committee to steward agriculture-friendly measures and make recommendations to the Town Board, and to create an enormous new AG zone that would permit agriculture-friendly uses and prevent uses that would erode farming in the community.

"It's the only time that I know of in Lansing's history where you've done a thorough analysis of your agriculture activity," Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture Program Leader Monika Roth said.  "A lot of the farm operations that you have are pretty solid and I see a future for them, especially with the good land that they have."

Planning Board members were most concerned by a misperception in town that acceptance of the plan means enacting new laws.  While the plan, much like a municipal comprehensive plan, sets a direction that reflects the Town's desire for agriculture into the next 15 years, it is only a guide, now law.  If new zoning is created a comprehensive process will include input from the Planning Board, an Ag Committee, town officials and farmers and other town residents.

"If it is adopted, the zoning changes don't have to be made," noted Planning Board Member Larry Sharpsteen.  "These are suggestions.  There is no force of law behind them."

Lansing generates $20 million in farm product sales and has over 17,000 acres of  farmland that provides over 100 jobs, at least 40 of them full time, with a combined payroll of at least $3 million.  About $17 million of that comes from dairy farms.  Lansing farms generate almost one-third of the $67 million total farm product sales in the Tompkins County.  8,472 acres in Lansing are farmed by owners, and an additional 8,570 acres are leased.

"The Town of Lansing has the most active agriculture (in Tompkins County) in terms of the most active farmland continuously farmed," Roth said.  "It also generates almost a third of the total ag sales in the county.  And you have some of the best soils."

After a June 1 Ag Plan Committee meeting Supervisor Kathy Miller suggested a joint Planning and Town Board meeting to get input from Planning Board members before the Town Board votes to accept the plan.  Since then Roth met with the Ag Plan committee to make some final revisions to the plan, including removing a chart showing specific allowed uses in a new proposed Ag zone.

Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long recommended that the Planning Board send the plan to the Town Board for approval.  He said that moving forward with the plan would enable the Town to be reimbursed.

"The Town has been out about $25,000 to do the study over the last seven years," he said.  "It's time to get the report completed so we can get to the next step."

Councilman Ed LaVigne expressed concern that not all farmers had been consulted about the plan, but Roth assured the Planning Board that they have been, and said the plan reflects input by all local farmers, and nearly universal acceptance, even from a few farmers who initially opposed provisions in the plan.  LaVigne also asked for clarification that the plan could still be edited after a public hearing to garner final comments before the Town Board votes on whether to accept it.

"We can still edit it.  It is required by the state that we have a public hearing," Roth said.  "Once the Town approves it, the  County Ag and Farmland Protection Board approves it.  The final step is that the State approves it."

Roth said a draft of the plan the plan has already been shared with the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, which she said raised no major concerns.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to send the plan to the Town Board for approval with some minor changes suggested in Monday's meeting.

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