Neighbors won the battle in one man’s request to keep chickens, but the war of backyard pet politics is not yet over in the town.
The Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday, May 21, denied Dale Owen’s request to keep chickens behind his family’s house on Mohawk Drive. Board members voted 2 (yes) to 1 (no) on the request for interpretation allowing Owen to keep laying hens. Since there were only three voting members, Owen needed unanimous support for approval.
Owen said he was “a little surprised” his request was denied. When asked, he admitted “a little part” of him wished he had just built the coop without going before the board. Although he said he would never consider taking that approach.
“I don’t think my neighbors are mad at me, but I think they would be in that case,” he said. “That never crossed my mind.”
Several neighbors had spoken out against the request, fearing negatives outcomes could result. Residents not in Owen’s neighbor had expressed support for his request and chickens being allowed in residential neighborhoods townwide.
Zoning Board Chairman Peter Barber previously recused himself from discussions and casting a vote on the application because he lives in Owen’s neighborhood. This left Owen needing three of the four remaining members to vote in favor.
Owen’s application had been scheduled for the May 21 meeting because the remaining board members said they would be able to attend, but one member, Sharon Cupoli, was absent on the day of the vote.
Spotlight News was not immediately able to find out why she wasn’t at the meeting. Board member Thomas Remmert, who acted as chairman for the application, said after the meeting he was not aware Cupoli would be absent. Barber, near the end of the meeting, indicated he also was surprised Cupoli was absent.
Board member Sindi Saita voted against Owen’s request. Saita said the neighbors’ strong opposition led to her decision.
“There was such strong support of neighbors, six out of eight, who said they did not want that exposure,” Saita said. “I sat through the neighbors across the street and next door saying, ‘We are not happy.’ They didn’t want the noise; they didn’t want the smell; … they didn’t want everything that comes along with it.”
Saita said she lives in a “planned urban development” that does not allow chickens, which was a part of the reason she chose it.
Saita started serving on the board in January so she had not voted on the two prior backyard chicken requests, which the board approved. Both of those requests though enjoyed wide support from surrounding neighbors.
Guilderland town code does not explicitly allow or disallow the keeping of chickens, so zoning board members review requests on a case-by-case basis.
Another difference between Owen’s request and the two previously approved, was that in the earlier cases, the chickens were already on the property.
“I think what got lost in all of this is that … everyone was on the same side of the fence,” Owen said. “We are all kind of in agreement of what we didn’t want.”
He said he didn’t want to smell chicken feces, hear lots of noise or not properly care for the chickens.
“They didn’t want the chance it may not shake out that way,” he said.
Owen’s only hope to keep chickens on his property is for the Town Board to approve changes to the zoning code.
Town Code revisions are ongoing through the Zoning Review Committee, with its members unanimously in support of allowing chickens into the zoning code. The change would allow up to six chickens on residential zoned land and outline a set of conditions.
Remmert said the Town Board could take up proposed Town Code revisions in June or July, but the process could likely last several months before any changes were approved.