Right to farm: Conway farmers eye bylaw

CONWAY — With efforts to build a community sewer system and increase Conway’s attractiveness to new businesses, farmers in town who are worried that any new neighbors may complain about their operations will be able to sleep a little easier if a proposed bylaw is approved at Town Meeting May 11.

Known as a “Right-To-Farm” bylaw, the policy would allow farmers and practitioners of other activities related to farming, such as dairying, aquaculture, viticulture or horticulture, to operate unimpeded on holidays, weekdays and weekends.

The bylaw, which is being proposed by the town’s Open Space Committee, would require anyone purchasing property within the town to be presented with a disclaimer notifying them that agriculture takes place within the town. The disclaimer would be resent to that person annually as a reminder.

“It is hereby determined that whatever impact may be caused to others through the normal practice of agriculture is more than offset by the benefits of farming to the neighborhood, community, and society in general,” the bylaw reads.

Committee chairwoman Tami Borton said she first got the idea to propose the bylaw during the town’s recent Master Plan revision process. She noticed that the town was trying to find ways to spur economic development and attract businesses to town and wanted to try to find a way to ensure the town’s historically agricultural roots wouldn’t be put at risk by the newcomers.

“I got to thinking, with this desire to grow, that agriculture is a very important part of the economy and the culture here in Conway, and we wanted to preserve that,” Borton said.

After a little research, Borton learned that the town had an Agricultural Commission to handle such issues, but that it had been vacant and inactive for a number of years. She also found that the town had never adopted a Right-To-Farm bylaw.

Conway is one of only five communities in the county who do not have such a bylaw.

Borton said only three communities in Hampshire County lack a Right-To-Farm bylaw.

Borton found three people, including herself, to join and restart the commission — residents Dave Fisher and Jason Silverman — and brought her idea for the bylaw to the Open Space Committee.

“We were surprised we don’t have one when most of the rest of the county does,” she said. “The regulation is long overdue.”

Borton said one example of a situation where the bylaw could be useful is the town’s planned Senior Housing development to be sited on a piece of town land known as the Rose property.

“When Conway’s senior housing is developed on the Rose Property, residents will be subject to the sights, sounds and smells of agricultural activities, as plans for the property include the continuation of farming,” she said.

If anyone does want to air a complaint about their neighbor’s loud roosters, wandering goats or dusty plowing, Borton said the bylaw includes a provision to resolve any disputes, which will be handled by the Board of Health and Selectboard. The farmers will still have to abide by other town bylaws regulating their work, such as those that limit the amount of animals a person can keep.

“We want to be friendly, so certainly if someone is living downtown with three dozen roosters, we’ll try to work something out with the landowner,” Borton said. “Looking forward, I saw the potential for grievances if we were to develop housing, bring more people to town or bring in businesses. I could see a situation where people moved in and wanted to change things, so this is to protect our heritage.”