MAHOPAC, N.Y.— It may soon be legal to own chickens—within certain parameters—in the town of Carmel.
Mahopac resident Robert Lena presented the Town Board with a petition earlier this month requesting that it amend the town code so it would allow for the keeping of chickens on residential property. Currently, the code only allows chickens to be kept on farms with a minimum of 5 acres.
Lena and his supporters argue that chickens provide fresh organic eggs, educate children about livestock and teach them responsibility, and eliminate backyard pests such as ticks.
Last week, the board presented a first draft of a code amendment that would allow chickens on residential properties within certain restrictions, and heard from a litany of chicken supporters who offered their ideas and suggestions.
“There are a lot of people who are trying to get more holistic, more natural,” said Councilman Jonathan Schneider. “They want to have their own chickens, their own eggs. The concern is that [the current code is] a little restrictive for the area, especially for the times we are living in. So we tried to come up with a code that puts the responsibility on the owners and hopefully addresses most of the concerns that people have in regard to this.”
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough said the board examined the codes of neighboring towns that allow chickens, including Bedford, Somers and Yorktown, to get ideas for its own code.
One of the biggest concerns they discovered in their research was roosters, which, as everyone knows, tend to be noisy.
“Most every code we referenced does not allow roosters,” Schneider said.
The proposed Carmel code amendment would ban roosters as well.
Other highlights of the proposed code amendment (Chapter 156) include:
• Lots with chickens must be at least 20,000 square feet (half-acre), and can only have six chickens per half-acre.
• Coops cannot be in front yards and most be at least 15 feet from all rear and side property lines.
• All coops must be movable structures for the purpose of cleaning.
• All coops must be maintained and cleaned in compliance with all state and local laws pertaining to animals.
• All coops must be screened from view with fencing, landscaping or a combination.
• All feed must be kept in rodent-proof containers.
Additionally, the first draft of the amendment calls for progressive fines for any code violators: $50 for the first offense; $100 for the second; and $200 for the third, which also called for the removal of the chickens and their coop.
However, town attorney Greg Folchetti said that town justice courts did not have the authority to remove the chickens.
“Justice court cannot order the removal of the coops; it’s not their jurisdiction,” he said. “They can impose fines. However, a supreme court can issue an injunction on any type of use of land or behavior and use of land.”
McDonough said the idea behind a progressive fine structure was to give residents an opportunity to correct any problems they may have.
“We wanted to be fair to the people who have chickens, as well as the neighbors,” she said. “If something is not being kept clean, well, you just can’t have chickens and let everything go. This [code] is for responsible chicken owners.”
Building inspector Mike Carnazza said he was worried about enforcing the part of the code that calls for the coops and runs to be maintained and kept clean and sanitary, fearing the language was too vague.
“I am concerned about enforcing the code regarding that all coops must be maintained in a “’lean and sanitary manner,’” he said. “How am I going to enforce a code where it says it’s to be kept clean or sanitary? We don’t have a standard; it’s very open to interpretation. You’ve created a very subjective code. We have to figure out a way to word it better.”
However, audience members pointed out that if the chickens were living under poor conditions, the animal control officer and the SPCA that would step in, not the code enforcement officer.
“I am definitely in favor of having chickens,” said Cricket Dykeman, the town’s animal control officer. “The ASAP will come out if there is an issue of cruelty. If the chickens are living in squalor, just like dogs or cats, the ASPA has their thing they do regarding cruelty to animals. If you are keeping them in inhumane conditions, they would be the ones to investigate and they would be the ones to take them to court.”
Dykeman said she favored chicken ownership because it promoted a healthier lifestyle.
“I would love to have chickens because I don’t like to buy chicken at the store because it’s full of antibiotics and stuff that I don’t want in my body,” she said. “And the eggs are awesome— much better than store-bought.”
Councilman John Lupinacci said he wanted to make sure that the chickens were kept in their coops and runs and not allowed to roam around the yard. He said that would go a long way to keep peace with the neighbors. He was also worried about chickens flying and suggested that the coops and runs be required to have some type of roof. However, chicken advocates in the audience said neither of those suggestions were necessary.
“There are over 200 breeds of chicken and only a few breeds fly,” said Carolyn Svoboda, a Somers resident who owns chickens and came to the meeting to share her expertise. “Roofs or netting are not really necessary, but it depends if the owners know if they have a breed that does not fly. My chickens don’t fly cause they’re too fat…but they can have a roof to protect them from winter elements. However, some breeds, just like dogs, like to stay outside in the winter, while some don’t. It’s the same with chickens. It depends on the breed.”
Alexa Tyberg, an eighth grader at Mahopac Middle School, said she’s been studying chicken ownership for about two years in anticipation of a new code and will get chickens as soon as it’s legal. She created a website called CarmelLovesChicken.info that looks at neighboring town codes and has a FAQ section on the topic.
She told the board that letting the birds out of their coops from time to time under supervision is a good thing.
“Free ranging is good,” she said. “A coop is required, but it’s good for them to get out once and a while.”
Tyberg brought photos of coops and runs to share with the board. She said the requirement calling for movable coups was shortsighted,
“I am opposed to not being able to have a permanent coop,” she said. “Coops [designed] for larger number of chickens would be impossible to move.”
She said as far as cleaning goes, many coops have removable bottoms that slide out like a hamster cage, and can be cleaned.
Frank Perez, who said he owns six chickens, said free-roaming chickens aren’t a problem.
“My chickens roam the yard and stay in the yard,” he told the board. “My dogs used to get three or four ticks a week, but since I got [the chickens] … no ticks. The chickens eat the bugs and all the pests.”
The board will continue to work on the wording of the code amendment before it re-presents it and calls for a public hearing on the matter.