Government

Town Board Puts Finishing Touches on ‘Chicken Law’

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The new code will allow residents with at least a half-acre of land to keep up to six chickens. Credits: Sue Guzman
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MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The language for a new ordinance that would allow homeowners with at least a half-acre of land to keep chickens is about complete and a public hearing has been scheduled for next month.

 “We are finalizing the language of how the law is going to read,” said Supervisor Ken Schmitt at the Feb. 8 Town Board meeting. “There have been different changes that have been made after discussions with the board and the community.”

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 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 was still some work to do before the law could be finalized.

Last month, the Planning Board gave the proposed measure its approval but members of the Town Board said they still wanted to make some minor tweaks to the code’s language. Town attorney Greg Folchetti said that would be fine if the changes were minor; otherwise, it would have to be sent back to Planning Board.

“There are just a couple of different things we have added on here and there,” said Councilman Jonathan Schneider at last week’s meeting. “To the components of the coops that [the proposed code] requires, we added a little more definition. We also changed it a little bit in regard to enforcement and now have included the Putnam County SPCA so that they will be empowered by this code to enforce any violations.”

Schneider said the board did its due diligence putting the code together, doing extensive research and garnering a good deal of input.

“We have discussed this information with reps from Cornell Cooperative Extension and we have spoken with the ASPCA and got a couple of recommendations from them as far as enforcement goes,” he said. “It seems like we are pretty close to having a finalized proposed code.”

Some of the minor changes that the Town Board made to the proposed code since it was viewed by the Planning Board spell out more specific details about coop requirements. The law, as currently written, would require coops to contain the following components:

• A nesting place for each chicken to lay eggs at least 4 inches deep

• An elevated roost or perching area for the chickens to sleep

• Ventilation

• Insulation

• Accessibility to eggs and an ability to clean properly

“Whoever gets involved with [keeping chickens] has to understand that there is a lot of responsibility,” Schneider said. “We want to protect the animals but we want to protect the residents as well.”

However, Deputy Supervisor Frank Lombardi said he was still uncomfortable with the new code’s half-acre minimum requirement for keeping chickens,

“I think at least 85 percent of this town is at least half-acre [properties] and I have asked for at least an acre to prevent issues with neighbors so they don’t feel like they bought a house next to a farm,” he said. “But let’s see what the public says at the public hearing.”

But Folchetti noted that if the board made a change to the language as significant as altering the lot-size requirement, the proposed code would have to go back to the Planning Board for its approval, which would further delay any public hearing.

“We have all had plenty of time to look at it so we don’t want to be picking it apart at the 11th hour,” Councilwoman Suzi McDonough said.

Schmitt, too, said he was in favor of letting the language stand.

“We have a lot of things we are working on and this is something we could check off our list,” he said.

Schneider said he is confident the proposed law would pass as it’s currently worded.

“I feel we can get a majority vote on what we have right now,” he said.

The board scheduled a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for its March 15 work session.

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