The chickens win.
Most Amherst homeowners can now apply for the right to raise chickens in their backyards – with conditions.
The Town Board voted, 5-1, Tuesday to create a temporary “special-use permit” that would allow homeowners to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for the right to raise up to six hens on their properties.
The permit would be up for renewal every two years to give the town the ability to end permits for chicken owners who prove negligent or irresponsible.
Among the provisions of the law:
• Applicants for the permit must live in detached, single-family homes and raise chickens for noncommercial purposes.
• No on-site chicken breeding or roosters are allowed. Hens do not need roosters to lay unfertilized eggs.
Most of these provisions were identical to what was drawn up by Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum back in July. But Tuesday’s version of the local law included a new provision that the Zoning Board “solicit input from property owners within 100 feet of the applicants property” to see if immediate neighbors have any complaints.
Karen Marks, whose family raised the chicken issue nearly a year ago, after she was cited by code enforcement officers for having six hens in her backyard, said she was relieved by the outcome.
“It couldn’t have gone better,” she said. “I’m very excited, and very happy, of course.”
She was one of six residents who spoke in favor of the new chicken law.
“The fear of noise, odor and disease will no longer be a concern once our town is able to see the results of responsible chicken ownership,” Marks said.
Two residents spoke against the law, citing unsightliness, odor and the potential for disease, as well as a potential for decline in property values. They also said the law creates a “dangerous precedent” by allowing homeowners to raise livestock in residential neighborhoods that are not zoned suburban-agricultural.
“Reject this law, please,” said former Zoning Board member Colleen Bogdan. “Protect our property values.”
At least two other homeowners who are already keeping chickens on their own properties, however, pleaded with the board to allow them to own their hens legally.
“My 9-year-old son absolutely loves this bird,” said David Fiegel, referring to an image of his smiling wife and son, with a hen tucked under his wife’s arm.
Several board members said the proposed law provides a good balance between those who want to raise chickens and neighbors who want property protections.
Council Member Mark Manna said the board is simply giving property owners permission to ask the Zoning Board for the right to raise chickens. It’s not a wholesale approval of raising chickens anywhere in town, he said.
Council Member Barbara Nuchereno raised several concerns, including the possibility that hens may be slaughtered on homeowner property. Nuchereno’s was the sole vote opposing the law.