Sharon planners OK farm subdivision


By Patsy Nicosia

By just a single vote, Sharon’s Joint Planning Board has approved the long-debated and often-argued subdivision of the Key farm on Staleyville Road.
The JPB’s 4-3 decision is contingent on DEC approval of a plan to mitigate the subdivision’s potential impact on the Northern Harrier—marsh hawk—which nests at the site.
Those talks—between DEC and NY Land & Lakes—which is purchasing the farm from Ray and Pamela Key, are already underway.
The vote came Thursday at the end of a public hearing on the 23-lot subdivision that like others before it, became heated at times.
Voting against approving the subdivision were JPB members John Rodden, Carl Seegers, and Ann Adams.
Voting in favor of it were Joshua Stillwell, Pauline Brown, Mary Ann Larkin, and Ray Parsons.
“Believe me, folks, we are listening. We have been listening,” said Mr. Parsons before the vote as opponents again blasted the JPB for not following its own Comprehensive Plan.
Neighbors—including other farmers—had argued that approving the subdivision would impact their farms by chopping up and limiting access to farmland.
They also worried that it would increase traffic on Staleyville Road and expressed concern over what the demand from as many as 23 additional homes could do to their already fragile and unpredictable wells.
“Agriculture and development don’t mix,” said Ames dairy farmer Kathi Ryan, whose family is looking to buy land that backs up against the Key farm as a way to bring their son into the business.
“What rights do we have? The local people who want to protect our quality of life and not let greed be the ultimate motive.”
Mr. Key, however, has said his family can no longer afford to lose money in dairy farming when costs exceed profits and wants to retire.
During the discussion, Mr. Seegers, one of the three JPB members who voted against the project, said he’d be more comfortable with fewer, larger lots that could still be small farms.
Often, that’s what happens said NY Land & Lakes Alan Lord: People buy two or three lots.
But making the lots too big, he said, would make them unaffordable.
Mr. Rodden, who also voted no, said he was concerned about wells; the Key farm is now supplied by a spring and nearby wells are often too salty to use.
“People already living there already have problems with their wells,” said Ms. Adams, the third JPB member voting against the project. “To me, this is a serious issue.”
Ms. Adams also blamed herself for the JPB not doing a better job of looking into requiring a conservation easement for the subdivision, something that would have clustered the homes while leaving more open space.
Part-time neighbor Peter Doughtery has long-managed his property to protect endangered species like the Northern Harrier, delaying the cutting of hay until the birds have nested and fledged.
He shared his concerns with DEC—which admitted in a November 9 meeting with JPB reps that its own maps weren’t up-to-date when project consultants reviewed them.
To mitigate the subdivision’s potential impact on the Northern harrier, DEC has proposed three options, two of which would require keeping 40 acres of the 350-acre farm as open land managed to benefit the Northern Harrier, and a third which would restrict development on a total of 64 acres.
The mitigation plan required a DEC permit.
Though that process can take as long as six month, DEC has promised to expedite it.