MAHOPAC, N.Y.— A new town ordinance that would allow Carmel/Mahopac residents to keep chickens on their property took another step toward fruition last week when the Planning Board offered a positive recommendation of the proposed legislation.

However, Town Board members said there is still work to do on the law because it needs to tweak some of the language in the version that the Planning Board initially green-lighted.

The idea of raising chickens on residential property first came before the Town Board last summer when Mahopac resident Robert Lena created an online petition at Change.org urging town officials to amend the town code.

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As it currently stands, the Carmel zoning code limits raising chickens 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 5 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.”

Lena told the Town Board he would like those parameters changed so more homeowners would be eligible to keep chickens.

“I am sure there are a bunch of 5-acre farms out there, but most who are into raising poultry [don’t have that much land],” he said.

The Town Board held an informational session in August and got feedback from town residents and local chicken enthusiasts who overwhelmingly favored such a change. The board has been crafting the new ordinance since then but said that even with the Planning Board’s approval, there is still some work to do before the law is finalized.

Some of the highlights of the new law include:

•             There would be a minimum lot requirement of 20,000 square feet (one-half acre) to have chickens. The maximum number of chickens for a half-acre lot would be six.

•             Coops and runs cannot be located in a front yard and have to be at least 15 feet from the rear and side property lines.

•             All coops and runs must be maintained in a clean and sanitary manner in compliance with state and local laws pertaining to animal cruelty.

•             All coops and runs must be screened from view at ground level from adjacent lots using 4- to 6-foot fencing and/or landscaping.

•             All feed must be kept in a rodent-proof container.

The draft puts a series of fines in place, ranging from $50 to $200, for those who violate the code.

The proposed law originally called for coops to be movable structures for the purpose of cleaning, but Town Board members said they realized that was untenable since a chicken owner couldn’t have a moving coop that was attached to a permanent run. Councilman Jonathan Schneider said that is one aspect that will be be changed as the board continues to tweak the proposed code’s language.

Some board members also said they wanted to allow free-range chickens for properties 3 acres or larger. However, Councilman John Lupinacci said he was hesitant to allow chickens to roam free unless the property is extremely large.

“I grew up with chickens and I know some chickens fly and some don’t,” he said. “I know you need to have a cover on your coop. And I am not a big fan of free-range unless there are a lot of acres. They should be contained and there should be a roof on it.”

Councilman Frank Lombardi said he was unsure about the half-acre minimum requirement.

“Just about every property throughout the town is half-acre so you could potentially have chickens everywhere,” he said. “It’s unfair to people who bought a home and didn’t want to end up living next to a farm.”

But Councilwoman Suzy McDonough said there are already numerous homeowners throughout town who keep chickens and there have been no complaints.

“If we had received any complaints, then I would worry,” she said. “I think a half-acre is fine to have six chickens. If you change it to 3 acres, hardly anyone will be able to have chickens.”

Some board members wondered if the proposed law would have to be resent to the Planning Board after more changes are made to it. Town attorney Greg Folchetti said that would only be necessary if “significant changes” were made, such as changing the lot size requirement, which, he said, would then become a planning/zoning issue.

The board said it will likely have more informational sessions on the topic, but hopes to have a finalized law in place by the spring.