Lot Requirement on New ‘Chicken Law’ to Be Increased

Putnam County SPCA police officers Ken Ross Jr., Ken Ross Sr., and Carmel building inspector Mike Carnazza, at a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow homeowners to raise chickens. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— After hearing input from residents during a public hearing last week, the Carmel Town Board has decided to alter the originally proposed lot-size requirement for a new local law that would allow the housing of chickens on residential properties.

Originally the proposed law called for a minimum of a half-acre to house six chickens, but several audience members went to the podium during the public hearing and complained that would put them too close to their neighbors. Several board members expressed similar concerns. After a discussion, the board decided to bump the requirement from a half-acre to one acre.

As the current code stands, raising chickens is limited to working farms. Chapter 156-17, section A, of the code states: “Farms, truck gardens, nurseries and other agricultural activities shall be permitted as principal uses, provided that: (1) the site size shall be at least five acres… (2) No building or structure used for any of the above purposes shall be located closer than 100 feet to any property line. Pens or buildings housing animals or runs shall be located a minimum 150 feet from any property lines.”

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Mahopac resident Joyce Mooney told the board she believes the drastic change in minimum lot size from five acres to a half-acre “neglects the rights of property owners to enjoy their property as they see fit.”

“Those who prefer the traditional residential setting they bought into without chickens living next door [would suffer],” she said. “The proposed change is drastic. It will virtually allow the raising of backyard chickens just about everywhere in this town, affecting the over 33,000 residents who live here. There is no compromise in this ordinance. It is one-sided.”

Mooney said she researched the codes for eight neighboring towns and most of them require at least nearly an acre to have chickens, with some requirements as high as five and 10 acres.

She also noted that Peekskill requires a permit to own chickens, and neighbors must sign off on it before the permit is issued. The city also limits the number of permits that can be handed out annually.

Resident Gary Margolis told the board it should look into the original reason why the town required five acres for keeping chickens.

“Do you think there was another town board sitting here that though it was a good idea [to require five acres]?” he asked. “If you want to go from five acres to a half acre, you need to find out why the previous board made it five acres. I think there were some pretty good reasons and you need to consider it before you change the law.”

Diane Henry said she once had neighbors who kept chickens and it was a horrible experience.

“My deck was 40 feet from my neighbors and I couldn’t go out into my backyard because of the smell of those animals,” she said. “There was feed all over the place that caused rodents to come—more raccoons, more skunks. It made it unpleasant for me as a homeowner who pays her taxes and lives in this town. Every time I went into my backyard, you had the wafting smell of the chickens, which was pretty disgusting. The chickens are gone now, thankfully; however, I wouldn’t want any other resident of this town to put up with that environment. A half-acre doesn’t cut it. I think five acres is really the minimum, but going a half-acre is insane.”

Cricket Dykeman, the town’s animal control officer, noted that the proposed ordinance calls for the chicken feed to be kept in a rodent-proof container, which would solve any rat problem.

“And there’s going to be raccoon and skunks anyway, so that’s not really an issue,” she said. “I really want chickens. I want fresh eggs and don’t want to eat the garbage that comes from the grocery stores and I want to be able to eat chickens I know aren’t full of hormones. I think we should be allowed to have chickens. People are pretty responsible about their animals in this town.”

Robert Lena, who originally proposed the chicken ordinance idea last summer, noted he’s had chickens for over five years and never had a complaint.

“The neighbors I interact with like the chickens and like the eggs,” he said. “They were actually upset when they found out the town prohibited such a harmless activity on my own property.”

Lena said keeping chickens provided several benefits: fresh eggs, pest control (they eat ticks), and educating his children about where our food comes from while teaching them responsibility.

Danielle Otten challenged the argument that owning chickens will create offensive odors.

“If it’s done properly, using leaves and grass mixed with chicken poop, you won’t have any smell,” she said. “If it’s maintained properly, [there won’t be a problem]. If it’s not, you could have smell linger, but that why it’s important to educate people on maintaining their coops.”

Councilwoman Suzi McDonough pointed out that the proposed law lays out how the coops must be cleaned and maintained and that there will be consequences for chicken owners who don’t do it.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time and did a lot of research,” she said. “This law is for someone who is serious. If you don’t do it right, there will be fines and you can have [the chickens] taken away.”

Councilman John Lupinacci agreed, saying only those who are serious about housing chickens should do it and the proposed law provides restrictive guidelines.

“If you clean it the way it’s supposed to be, there won’t be a smell,” he said. “I’ve been on the fence about the half-acre, but I don’t mind going up to one acre. This is not some little hobby. You are going to be forced to do it right.”

Councilman Frank Lombardi said that since the law was first proposed, he believed that a half-acre was too small.

“Somers is one acre; Yorktown is five acres,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with people who want to have chickens, but it’s not fair to people who are on each side. We are not 1960 Carmel anymore. We have to be concerned with all 37,000 residents. We already have issues with [code] enforcements and this will just increase animosity.”

Supervisor Ken Schmitt agreed, saying, that while he likes the idea of the law, a half-acre is probably too small and could trigger disputes between neighbor. He favored increasing the minimum lot to one acre.

“But I think it’s a great law and well thought out with restrictions built right in,” he said. “We are still a rural community. If our residents want to raise chickens, let them raise chickens, but have them do it in the spirit of the law.”

Town attorney Greg Folchetti said that changing the lot requirement from a half-acre to one acre would be considered a “substantive” change and thus requires a new public hearing on the code with its rewritten language. The tentative date for the new hearing has been set for May 24.

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