Backyard chickens proposal nixed in Schenectady, but co-op concept floated

Chickens in Schenectady on Tuesday.

Chickens in Schenectady on Tuesday.

SCHENECTADY — Advocates for backyard chickens may need some chicken soup for the soul this week.

The recent push to allow domestic henkeeping is all-but-dead as lawmakers flatly said they would not support the practice.

“I’m definitely firm that I don’t think this will work in our neighborhoods,” said City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick, who said she’s already fielded complaints about people illegally slaughtering chickens.

“I’ve gotten calls that they definitely don’t want to see that happen again,” Patrick said.

Despite their opposition, lawmakers on Monday said they’re open to supporting pilot projects in public co-op settings as a first step before possibly expanding the practice at a later unspecified date.

“I just thought it was a way to move forward with a minimal amount of risk,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo.

Advocates and critics for weeks circulated dueling online surveys designed to glean public input.

Each reinforced the pre-existing viewpoints of their originators.

A survey circulated by Councilman John Polimeni, who is against backyard poultry, found the majority of 200-plus respondents were against the measure.

A questionnaire designed by advocate Chad Putman revealed the majority of 500-plus participants were in favor.

Both acknowledged free online surveys aren’t scientific, but tried to weed out duplicative or otherwise questionable responses that attempted to game the system.

Putman said he was impressed with the public response.

“Contrary to Mr. Polimeni’s survey, which certainly had its own tone in the way it came across, I felt the response was much more positive,” Putman said.

Polimeni said he circulated the questionnaire in his personal capacity — not on behalf of City Council — and attempted to make the questions as objective as possible.

“Largely what I got was people were against it,” Polimeni said.

Neither appeared to sway lawmakers, who said more thought is needed to work through dangling question marks, including the proximity of chicken coops to neighboring houses, predators, odor and how to dispose of the birds once they reach the end of their egg-laying years.

“It’s not just a matter of throwing hens in the yard and letting that be it,” said Councilwoman Marion Porterfield.

Lawmakers suggested launching a community pilot program at Schenectady Urban Farm at Vale Cemetery, where chickens are allowed after the city issued a permit for educational purposes.

Putman, who winters the hens at his home in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood, said advocates will follow up on potentially launching a co-op at that location.

Advocate Ellie Pepper said while a co-op seems like a good idea, she has learned through working with Schenectady Urban Farm that it’s not uncommon for people to start garden plots in April only to lose interest by August before the crops are harvested.

“That would be really unpleasant if it happened with chickens,” Pepper said.

The city of Albany passed an ordinance allowing backyard chickens last year.

A city spokesperson didn’t respond for comment on Tuesday when asked how the program was working, nor did they make anyone available for an interview.

However, city Councilman Richard S. Conti told Putman in an email that the city’s Director of Buildings and Regulatory Enforcement told him the city “only received 4 or 5 complaints related to hens since the adoption,” none of which were for residents that had obtained the necessary license.

Those complaints were for “excessive” hens, a hen without a coop and coops constructed for unlicensed hens.

Backyard hens had “no impact” on the office, said the official.

Permits are capped at 75, with no more than six hens per permit.

The town of Niskayuna approved the practice earlier this year. As of early November, the town had not received any applications for permits, officials said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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