It’s nearly impossible to have a discussion about chickens in suburbia without sneaking in a pun or two, as evidenced in past Spotlight headlines: “Hatching plans,” “Fowl request spurs discontent,” and “Clucking continues over chicken proposal.”
But we will resist the urge to make light of it here.
In about two weeks, Guilderland resident Dale Owen will learn whether the Zoning Board of Appeals will grant his request to keep up to 10 laying hens outside his family’s home on Mohawk Drive. He’s been before the board twice already, providing detailed plans for the siting and construction of the coop.
We think the town should give Owen the go-ahead. And we also think the time is nigh for all Capital District towns to come up with a comprehensive plan regarding backyard coops to eliminate any ambiguity and provide guidelines that can be enforced.
Worries about chickens in suburbia are many, and detractors are very passionate about their concerns. They say the smell would be overwhelming, that chickens could spread diseases or attract predators and that they might detract from the character of the neighborhood.
But all these “woulds, coulds and mights” are just speculation and are rarely backed up by anything more than anecdotal evidence. They represent fears, not reality. And it hardly seems right to stop someone from raising a pet that “could” be a nuisance. Under that logic, dogs and cats would probably have to go, too.
As the backyard chicken trend grows, many municipalities across the country have embraced the movement with little to no ill effects. In the Capital District, Troy — which has a higher population density than most of the suburban neighborhoods in the Spotlight’s coverage area — has been allowing its residents to raise poultry for years. Residents in White Plains, Saratoga Springs and Plattsburgh can, as well.
This is not a trend that is about to go away anytime soon.
Guilderland’s Zoning Review Committee is in the process of rewriting the town code with one possible revision that would allow chickens in residential zoning without having to go through the individual approval process. The Town Board would ultimately have to OK any changes to the code, but we think this is a step in the right direction.
It hardly seems fair that Mr. Owen could have his request denied simply because his neighbors are more vocally opposed to his plans, while two other Guilderland residents recently got the go-ahead, with the blessing of their neighbors, long after their coops had already been set up. As it stands, approving coops on a site-by-site basis makes for arbitrary decisions based more on emotion than fact.
The Town of Bethlehem recently welcomed a feathered flock to Boy Scout Luke Manley’s backyard on Parkwyn Drive. Again, the town has no overarching rules for keeping chickens, so Manley’s request was contingent on planning board approval, which was granted in December.
Along with that approval came the conditions that the chickens must remain in their coop or chicken run at all times, cannot become a nuisance to neighbors through noise or smell, and that their bedding material and manure must be disposed of at a composting facility, with food and waste stored in containers to control odors and prevent pests.
They are all sensible requirements, and ones that would make sense as part of a clear and comprehensive guide to keeping chickens within a town’s borders.