GROTON -- Seeking to coordinate efforts in clarifying language in various town bylaws dealing with agriculture, members of the Planning Board met Nov. 29 with their counterparts on the Agricultural Commission seeking to identify issues of concern.
The question of compatibility between local bylaws and state law as an item of special concern to the Agricultural Commission was brought to the fore earlier in the year when the two seemed in conflict over the issue of housing for agricultural workers.
At the time, the commission was trying to better organize the town's existing bylaws dealing with agricultural businesses in order to eliminate instances where they might not have been compatible.
Although Groton has a right-to-farm bylaw, it was still difficult for larger farms that are obligated to put up workers on a temporary basis to receive permitting for housing on their property. Most simply found places for such workers to live outside of town.
It was the uncertainty of the whole subject that convinced the Agricultural Commission to look more deeply into the issue, at one point inviting the town's building inspector and zoning enforcement officer Milton Kinney to meet with them.
Kinney said it was his opinion that state law allowed for resident workers but that local law was less clear.
That confirmation galvanized the Agricultural Commission, which immediately began an effort to amend the pertinent portions of the town's zoning bylaws with a warrant article intended for Town Meeting.
The issue, however, was settled outside of Town Meeting when Kinney dug up a letter from the state's Department of Agricultural Resources that cited a court decision finding that local zoning measures could not prohibit the creation of agricultural housing.
But the whole question of agricultural housing only served to highlight other parts of local zoning bylaws that were unclear or not in conformance with state law. For that reason, the Planning Board at its meeting of Nov. 29 was agreeable in working with the Agricultural Commission to clarify the language.
Agricultural Commission chairman George Moore suggested drawing up a list of concerns to be reviewed by the commission along with Planning Board representatives that included Jason Parent and Russell Burke.
Concerns noted at the Nov. 29 meeting included prior notification to abutters and potential purchasers of property that there was agricultural activity in the neighborhood, conservation land leased for agricultural purposes, livestock, minimum acreage requirements based on use, the definition of farmland to be made consistent with state regulations, and separating out unrelated items such as private dog kennels from agricultural issues.
Also considered was the possibility of involving the Board of Health and Conservation Commission in the process. Although health agent Ira Grossman declined participation due to lack of time, it was proposed that Board of Health member Susan Horowitz be invited to take part due to her long experience with health issues.
Having given up on the idea of preparing a measure for consideration by voters at a special Town Meeting scheduled for Feb. 2, Moore said the Agricultural Commission's target will now be next spring's Town Meeting.
Before then, however, the Agricultural Commission hopes to meet in a working session with members of the Planning Board and other town officials in January with a public hearing for the community at large the following month.
The Agricultural Commission is expected to address the issue further at its next regular meeting scheduled for Dec. 12.
"We're off to a good start," declared Burke, satisfied with the results of the Nov. 29 joint meeting.