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Town Board Passes Law that Permits Keeping Chickens

Carmel/Mahopac residents who have at least 40,000 square feet of property can now keep up to six chickens under a new law. Credits: File photo

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - After nearly a year of research and debate, the Carmel Town Board has passed a law that will allow residents to keep and maintain chickens on their properties providing they meet certain criteria.

The board passed the new ordinance at its May 24 meeting by a 3-1 margin after a public hearing. Deputy Supervisor Frank Lombardi cast the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Jonathan Schneider was absent from the meeting, but Supervisor Ken Schmitt said Schneider indicated to him that he was in favor of the law.

The new law, Local Law 3 for 2017, which amends Chapter 156 of the town code, requires a homeowner to have at least 40,000 square feet of land (3,560 square feet less than a full acre) to qualify. The original proposal called for a minimum of a half-acre to qualify for chicken ownership, but the Town Board increased the requirement after getting public feedback at several informational meetings and at last month’s public hearing. Six chickens are allowed per 40,000 square feet, with a maximum of 18. No roosters will be permitted.

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The law also requires that the coops and runs be built at least 15 feet from property lines. The coops must have nesting places for each chicken that are at least 4 inches deep, elevated roosting areas, and ventilation and insulation. Additionally, coops can only be located in backyards and must be screened from view with either fencing or landscaping.

A certificate of compliance must be issued by the building department for the coops and a permit to own the chickens must be obtained from the town clerk’s office. A fee schedule for the permit has yet to be established and Schmitt said no fee will be charged until the Town Board sets the schedule.

At last week’s public hearing, there were still some residents who expressed concern about aspects of the law.

“Fifteen feet from the property line is nowhere near enough,” said Mahopac resident Dave Nicholas. “If I had [to live next to that], I would be pretty upset. Droppings from some birds, if you breathe in the dust, it can cause respiratory illnesses, maybe even cancer. I’m not sure about that, but it’s not something you want to be breathing in.  If it’s not buried right way and it’s just 15 feet from your property line and the wind is blowing your way, it’s a nightmare.”

Mahopac resident Diane Henry said the town should have made the minimum lot requirement a full acre—43,560 square feet—not 40,000 square feet. She also warned that the town would have trouble enforcing the law.

“You need to have some way to follow through with this. Compliance officers are few and far between,” she said. “If they can’t monitor what is currently going on, how are they going to monitor all the chickens [that may come along now]. We need some kind of visual inspection to make sure they have the right environment, the right tools and the right education.”

Mike Carnazza, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, said those who want chickens will need a certificate of compliance before a permit is issued and he will visit each property.

“For this, we are going to do a permit and a certificate of compliance to show they are in compliance with this code,” he explained. “It’s the only way that we can make sure that these, at least at this point, comply. I will actually go in there and see it—take a look and see what they have. I will measure the property lines and make sure the coops are far enough away and that they have the buffer.”

Carnazza said if neighbors complain about odors, there will be a way to address that.

“I have no experience with chickens or the odors and in the beginning, I said I had a problem [with the proposed law] because the [complaints] I was called to in the past were because of the smell. But if they are going to be maintained properly, I don’t think it will be a problem. If the animals are not being treated properly, we would forward the complaint to the ASPCA.”

Resident Alison Palm-Bevilacqua, agreed with Carnazza, saying if a coop is properly cared for, odor won’t be an issue.

“Whether you use PVC or diatomaceous earth, any of that would resolve any smell issue,” she told the board during the public hearing. “If it were a problem then it’s a case of neglect and the town would have to be called in, so it’s not an issue. If you have a barrier, it would prevent any smell or dust from wafting over.

“If [opponents of the law] are worried about neglect or mistreatment, they should look at the chickens and eggs they are buying in the store,” she added. “If they are concerned about mistreatment they should take a good hard look at where those products are coming from.”

Schmitt said a lot of research went into crafting the law, and feedback was garnered from myriad sources.

“This law has been thoroughly vetted,” he said. “We have gotten a lot of input from the residents who spoke at the previous meetings and we have incorporated their concerns into the law. Our building inspector has done thorough research on the language and our town attorney, Greg Folchetti, has reviewed it. So, we believe we have arrived at a law that is workable and represents the concerns and the interests of the residents, both for and against.” 

Some of those who were pro-chicken expressed concerns about having to get a permit, but Councilwoman Suzy McDonough said the board felt that it was the best way to separate serious chicken owners from those who might do it on a whim.

“What we tried to do is make it where people would need to be really serious about it,” she said. “If we didn’t have a permit process in place where they didn’t have to go to the building department and to the clerk’s office, then anybody could do it. At Easter time they might say, ‘Hey, let’s go get a few chickens’ and that’s not what we wanted. We want those who are very serious—almost farmers—to do it. So, there is an expense to it; there is time management to it, and that’s why we put the permit [requirement] in.”

Lombardi said there have been many reasons he’s been skeptical of the law since it was originally proposed last summer, which is why he voted “no.” He said the 15-foot requirement for coops to stay away from property lines was not far enough.

“We are inviting issues between neighbors,” he said. “I have already heard things like, ‘We didn’t move next to a farm; why are you doing this?’”

He also said it would put undue pressure on an already stressed code enforcement and building department.

“They are already busy enough,” he said. “I don’t think they are equipped with the manpower they need [to deal with it]. I hope people are courteous to their neighbors and it works, but this is my opinion based on my conversations with many, many residents throughout town. I hope it goes well and there no complaints, but if there are, then this is something we will have to revisit again.”

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