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Fireworks in Ag Zone

Local farmers protested the use of fireworks at a new wedding venue that has been proposed a Dutch Harvest Farm in the north of Lansing off of Ridge Road.  Neighbors expressed concerns about noise and traffic at a public hearing two weeks ago, but farmers at Monday's Planning Board meeting said at that because of the 'startle effect' in livestock fireworks would pose a safety hazard for animals and people alike.  Next door neighbor Abigail Gilson said that fireworks should be prohibited in the entire agriculture zone, which encompasses the northern half of Lansing.

"Due to the startle response in livestock, fireworks in particular are simply a health and safety issue," she told Planning Board members. "This is something that I would hope you would consider.  I am told you are working on a Town ordinance for the rural agricultural district.  It's extremely important any where in Lansing, not just this particular venue."

The proposed project includes a 72 by 102 foot barn-like post and beam wedding venue structure, a pond, parking lot and septic systems.  The project would impact 17 acres of a 55 acre property owned by Laura Huizinga.  The building would be at the end of an 800 foot driveway, largely hidden from neighbors.  It would have a main floor and a loft.  A parking lot would accommodate 82 vehicles, and the anticipated occupancy limit of 163 people.  Weddings would only take place there during the warm months, as the building would not be insulated.

Dutch harvest Farm Wedding Venue Plan

At a September 10th public hearing some neighbors expressed concerns about noise and traffic, but the couple said they planned to impose a quiet hour at 11pm, with events entirely finished by midnight.

Gilson suggested that notification of neighbors before setting off fireworks would be a minimum remedy, because it would give farmers a chance to put their livestock inside barns and stalls.  But she said the noise factor would be a safety issue for livestock and farmers because the loud fireworks naturally cause a startle response that is unpredictable.

"If our cattle get startled, it's our liability," she said. "It's about the welfare of animals as well.  It has to be a responsibility of the Town to implement and write code which helps protect our right to farm."

"When I bought this house six years I planed to live out the rest of my life there," said neighbor Karen Bishoff. "Now I'm wondering if I need to move or at least re-home my animals.  I'm that scared of my horses getting startled and running right through the fence onto 34B.  They're a blind corner and a hill there.  People come flying down that road and they can't see what's in front of them until they get right in front of my house.  A horse shooting out onto 34B could kill innocent people as well.  That's my concern about having fireworks."

She said they could put them into their stalls, but it wouldn't prevent them from kicking and hurting themselves when they get scared.  She said that when she first moved to the area the horses stood in the pasture shivering for hours after hearing gunshots during hunting season, and worried that the noise and light from fireworks would be worse.

Planning Board Chairman Tom Ellis asked whether notification prior to fireworks displays would be enough to satisfy the livestock owners, giving them time to put the animals in their stalls.  Gilson and Bishoff said it would help, but they feared the animals could still injure themselves.

"Notification would help -- I could put them in their stalls," Bishoff said.  "But I think I would have to get rid of them because I think they would injure themselves or somebody else.  That's what scares me most."

Lansing Code Enforcement Officer Lynn Day noted that the John Joseph Inn on Auburn Road has fireworks when they host weddings.

"They are in the RA zone, next to a couple of farms and next to the veterinary hospital," he said. "I've never had a complaint from anybody."

Ellis said that the Planning Board would have to allow the project because current zoning and laws allow that use.  But he said that the Rural Agriculture (RA) district should be redefined to restrict any use not strictly related to agriculture, if only to protect farmers' right to farm.  He noted that while golfing in King Ferry he could hear music from a party at Treleaven Winery a mile and a half away.

"My interpretation of RA translates to 'Reckless Abandonment'," he said. "There are a lot of uses we just dumped in there just because.  I don't think fireworks was even thought of.  And some of the other uses that we now accommodate in the rural Ag... the emphasis that the Town is putting on agriculture, that you actually have a commercial enterprise plunked down in the middle of an Ag district that somebody owning livestock in a rural ag district would actually have to go out and stall their animals to protect them from a commercial enterprise that is not related to an ag function.  Agri-tourism, agri-markets, agriculture in any way, shape or manner.  My opinion is that we need to define this better and we need to restrict it better.  This is a straight commercial use that, because of the ways our laws are written, we've got to accommodate."

Joe Huizinga, representing his wife Laura, said they are making a huge effort to be good neighbors.  He said they plan to notify neighbors.  He noted that the proposed building is set back about 800 feet from the road, and the barn-style design is calculated to blend with the rural landscape.  He noted they are planting trees and making sure existing hedge rows will shield neighbors from light when wedding are taking place.  He said that the site, as currently zoned, is allowed to have a wedding venue facility they are proposing.

"My wife and I chose that property because it was predetermined that it was OK to have a banquet hall facility," he said.  "We're mom and pop.  We're not some big conglomerate.  It was already approved by the Planning Board, and what comes with it is the noise(, light, traffic)... what you would expect at a wedding.  There are examples of venues like the John Joseph Inn that do have fireworks... but it's rare."

Planning Consultant Michael Long said that the Planning Board can't make a law restricting fireworks.

"If you're requesting to regulate fireworks it's nothing that the Planning Board does," said Long.  "It's something that would be an action before the Town Board.  Whether or not they could do it, I don't know."

At the August 13th public hearing Planning Board member and farmer Lin Davidson said that fireworks, drones that may be used to photograph weddings, and hot air balloons would all be disruptive to farming.  At Monday's meeting he said that while there may not be a law prohibiting fireworks the Planning Board could make a prohibition a condition of the site plan approval.

"When this thing comes up I'm not going to vote," Davidson said. "But we do have a site plan, and noise is something, drainage is something, lighting is something.  It's not a matter of no laws.  It's a matter of will of this board.  You talk about NIMBY - well, this is my back yard.  A number of back yards make a neighborhood.  Neighborhoods is what it's all about."

The Planning Board is beginning to consider changes to town zoning, including changing a large swath of the town from RA to a new Ag zone that was proposed in the Agriculture And Farmland Protection Plan that the Town adopted in 2015.  But unless and until the Town Board changes the law, the Planning Board is bound to current zoning.

Ellis told neighbors the Planning Board would take their concern about fireworks into consideration when approving the site plan.

"We've heard that and I think we have food for thought for site plan review and site plan conditions," Ellis said.

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