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Playing Chicken

Voting draws near on the future of live poultry in Albany

by Jason Chura on April 14, 2011 · 1 comment

The Albany Chicken Coalition, led by Michael Guidice and Jen Pursley, was started after the couple’s eight-bird coop was shut down by the city last year. According to Guidice, chickens are an important part of a sustainable urban lifestyle. Chickens eat table scraps, provide nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer if fed organic feed, provide fresh eggs, and teach children valuable lessons about hard work and where food comes from.

Guidice has been attending neighborhood association meetings across the city over the past couple months to spread the word about urban chickens.

“I know from going across the city that lots and lots of people support chickens and really like the idea and agree that it’s in line with the sustainability initiatives we’ve seen in other cities,” Guidice said. New York City, Buffalo and Troy have all passed ordinances allowing chickens, as have Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The revised bill would exempt a flock of up to five hens from Albany’s general ban on maintaining livestock within the city. Roosters would remain illegal. Chicken owners would be required to apply for a permit to keep the birds and would have to go through a yearly renewal process, contingent upon the ongoing approval of their immediate neighbors.

“It’s going to create a chicken bureaucracy,” said Albany Common Council Majority Leader Daniel Herring (Ward 13), who sponsored the initial ban. Herring cites the initial noise concern that triggered the ban originally, potential health concerns associated with chickens, and the cost of licensing and code enforcement as additional reasons for his opposition.

“I don’t think there’s much cost at all,” said Albany Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), sponsor of the bill to ease the ban. “People have to pay a fee to renew a dog license to cover the administrative costs of getting the permit. The way the legislation is written, it’s not that [the codes department] doesn’t have to go and approve anything before you get your permit. The way the legislation is written is that codes has the right at any time to come in and check the facility to make sure it’s sanitary and healthy for the hens. I really don’t see how much more cost there’s going to be. To me it seems minuscule.”

Much of the protest against keeping chickens in the city is based on myth, according to Guidice.

“Chickens are no noisier than your next door neighbor’s barking dog. They’re no noisier than the birds in the trees around your house. I mean, they’re birds. They’re not squawking or anything like that. They’re relatively quiet,” said Guidice.

Guidice calls health concerns overblown, claiming that any risk can be overcome with proper care and sanitation. He also points out that cat and dog droppings are far worse as they can be laden with parasites and disease and yet are still allowed within the city.

Herring is also concerned with what impact a backyard chicken coop might have on the value of adjacent properties.

“People that I’ve talked to; people in the business have told me that there is no way when selling a piece of property where there are chickens next door, that they could in any way enhance the value of the property in question,” said Herring. “They could never be considered a plus and would always be a negative.”

Herring asked his constituent David Phaff, a local realtor who is active with area neighborhood associations, what opinion the realtor community would have on chickens. To discover the answer, Phaff created an online survey to distribute to area realtors to determine what impact they perceived chickens would have on the desirability of a property, along with a cover letter outlining the debate.

“I think any intelligent person who was to see things clearly for what they were would have seen that that survey was horrendously and inappropriately biased against chickens,” said Guidice.

When word of the survey hit the pro-chicken community, some assumed non-realtors allegedly took the opportunity to share their opinions as well.

“They flooded the survey after the first few hours with identical responses, all of which were 100-percent chicken,” said Phaff.

Phaff declared the survey null and void as a result. He plans to attempt to collect data again in a more secure fashion in order to present it for review by the common council.

Calsolaro said that he plans to call for a final vote on the matter in May, regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s meeting with the law committee.

“From my experience to date, the vast majority of people don’t want anything to do with chickens,” said Herring. “They don’t want them themselves, and they don’t want them living next door to them.”

“There’s just a general fear and resistance to change around the issue,” Guidice said. “We’re probably talking about a limited number of hobbyists and enthusiasts that are going to pursue a permit after the law is passed. We’re not talking about flooding the city with chicken coops.”

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