movement is growing to allow hens in Albany neighborhoods
Residents, sustainability advocates and a number of local
organizations in Albany have recently come together in common
support of an uncommon cause—backyard chickens.
Few residents took notice when a city ordinance passed in
December 2001 outlawed “farm animal or fowl” within the city
limits. Excepting certain variances, animals such as horses,
pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and ducks were banished from
Albany proper. Prior to 2001, mules, geese and even cattle
had been allowed.
The Albany Chickens Coalition is proposing to amend the city
code to exempt female chickens. In an open letter to the City
Council, the coalition argues that “hens are clean and quiet
animals no louder than your average pigeon, no dirtier than
your average dog. In addition to providing affordable, fresh,
healthy and delicious eggs, chickens also reduce solid waste
through the consumption of table scraps and other organic
material, provide nitrogen-rich garden fertilizer via waste
by-products and reduce backyard pest populations by the consumption
Ordinance No. 115-31—which was prompted by a loud rooster
in a residential neighborhood—had few opponents in 2001, but
came under scrutiny in recent weeks after a local couple were
told they would have to get rid of the chickens they’ve been
keeping in their backyard. Believing that they were covered
by an educational variance for the school next door, Jen Pursley
and Michael Guidice have kept chickens there for eight years.
allows us to have a closer connection to our food source,”
Pursley told Metroland. “It’s a way to teach our kids
where their food comes from, which is something that we both
believe is very important. They’re fun to care for and easy
to maintain, and fresh eggs in the mornings is really nice
feel strongly about issues of urban sustainability,” added
Guidice, mentioning that the couple had recently finished
remodeling their home on Grand Street to reflect those concerns.
“But it’s also a fun hobby. We’re definitely animal people.”
Pursley and Guidice, who also own a dog-walking service in
Albany called Hounds on the Hudson, are now working with Albany
Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) and others to
change the law. (For now, their chickens are living next door
at the Albany Free School.) Networking through e-mail and
social media, Albany Chickens have amassed nearly a thousand
signatures for their petition and gained the support of groups
such as the Capital District Permaculture Guild and Save the
goal was to have a thousand signatures by Dec. 6 at the next
Common Council meeting,” said Pursley. She said Calsolaro
recommended the petition to demonstrate public support for
the amendment (that he helped to write), which is based on
a current law in Portland, Ore.
Calsolaro has really been a key player in this whole thing,”
said Guidice. “He was on this the first minute we called him,
and he’s been extremely supportive through the whole process.”
The proposed ordinance will be introduced to the City Council
on Dec. 6 and, from there, will likely be assigned to a committee
by President Pro Tempore Richard Conti. The committee will
have time to review the amendment and listen to public statements
before making a recommendation to the council. According to
Calsolaro, the whole process may take a while; he hasn’t heard
much opposition (aside from one comment left on his Facebook
page), but said he doesn’t know how the legislation will be
received by other council members. “It depends on where the
petitions are coming from and those sorts of things,” he said.
“Some of the people who voted for the original ordinance are
still on the council, and I don’t know if they’ll approve.”
Local food movements increasingly have appeared over the last
few years in the United States, often directly alongside environmental
sustainability efforts. Heightened awareness of the dangers
presented by factory-produced poultry and beef have made the
environmental benefits of locally produced foods even more
attractive, while the uncertain economy has caused people
to look for more ways to be self-dependent.
self-provisioning is the most basic work of human beings,”
said local sustainability advocate and public speaker Sharon
Astyk. “Until comparatively recently, it was the single biggest
project of most humans who have ever lived, and it is fairly
natural to us.”
think the larger context for backyard chickens in Albany,”
she continued, “is the emergence of an awareness of how many
dependencies we have on fossil fuels, a stable climate, on
complex shipping systems and pricing that we don’t control,
and of course all the complexities of food safety. Because
of all this, there’s an emerging desire to at least control
what we can about the way we eat and feed our kids.”
will Albany and surrounding municipalities deal with a packed
The public has until Friday (Nov. 19) to weigh in on how the
Capital Region gets rid of garbage in coming decades, after
which the Albany Common Council will vote on whether to adopt
the solid-waste management plan and forward it to the Department
of Environmental Conservation.
The plan opens the door for Albany and other counties to form
a binding authority that could charge user fees. Members would
be locked in: They couldn’t withdraw from the authority without
approval from the state Legislature.
The plan also considers instituting a pay-as-you-throw policy.
As lead member of the Capital District Solid Waste Partnership,
Albany is the only one of 14 member municipalities that decides
whether to pass on the plan to the state.
Albany will lose the right to run its dump if it misses the
Jan. 1 deadline for filing the plan with the state. The plan
includes a generic draft environmental impact statement for
the Rapp Road landfill extension that the State approved last
year. This GDEIS is due by New Year’s Day.
The landfill extension began accepting trash this summer.
It’s expected to run out of space in six or seven years.
A major goal of the plan is flow control—governmental power
to dictate where refuse goes for disposal. The Capital District
Solid Waste Partnership does not have flow control now.
A surefire way of gaining flow control is to create an authority.
At meetings, members of the steering committee that drafted
the plan favored this option.
The plan outlines two other alternatives: for the partnership
to stay the same size or for it to grow bigger. Growth would
mean trying to recruit and get long-term commitments from
Rensselaer and Schenectady counties and the Town of Colonie.
Governmental control is possible without an authority, according
to Ruth Leistensnider, the attorney hired to advise the city
on the solid waste plan. In a Feb. 3 memo to the steering
committee, she outlined several mechanisms for establishing
“the equivalent to flow control.”
The plan is supposed to summarize disposal and recycling goals
through the year 2030, but the timeline stops a decade short,
Albany’s Tom Ellis said during an Oct. 25 hearing on the plan.
More than 93 percent of state’s public debt is created by
government authorities, said Ravena resident Jim Travers,
who attended most steering committee meetings. It is more
a bunch of ideas than a fleshed-out plan, he said.
Clough Harbor and Associates, a consulting engineering firm
hired by the city, put together most of the plan before the
steering committee ever met, Travers said outside the council
all decisions to an as yet uncreated authority” is irresponsible,
said Travers. “As long as they make money off of garbage,
there’s never going to be an incentive to reduce the amount
that they’re receiving.”
Two out of 12 solid waste authorities in the state are troubled,
steering committee chairman Michael O’Brien admitted on Oct.
4, when the council voted 14-1 to open the 45-day public-comment
period. But, he said, just because there are dysfunctional
families, it doesn’t mean that the family can’t be a good
One of the problematic authorities is in Duchess County. The
other is shared between Montgomery, Oswego and Schoharie counties.
It has been asked to disband by an oversight commission.
While the authority is the most controversial element of the
plan, initiatives to recycle more and compost food and vegetation
were “almost universally supported” by steering committee
members, said O’Brien.
The plan aims to increase recycling to 65 percent by 2020,
partly by accepting more types of plastic. The plan also considers
food composting, which has worked in Delaware and Ontario,
Canada, said O’Brien.
A PowerPoint presentation to the Albany Common Council in
June included a list of the 10 most abundant substances chauffeured
to the Rapp Road landfill; food waste was the single largest
component. Paper came in next.
The plan also encourages product stewardship. That means the
state and federal governments place what amounts to a disposal
tax on manufacturers for brand new products—electronics, for
The Capital Region Solid Waste Management Partnership has
been working on the plan for two years. Its members are Albany,
Rensselaer, Bethlehem, East Greenbush, Watervliet, Green Island,
New Scotland, Voorheesville, Guilderland, Altamont, Berne,
Knox, Westerlo and Rensselaerville.
The partnership’s steering committee is made up of the member
towns and other stakeholders, including the state, Albany
County, and the Council of Albany Neighborhoods Association.
The committee met 14 times between November 2008 and March
2010 to draft the plan.
These meetings were poorly attended, and only 11 of 24 committee
members voted that the plan was complete, Ellis told the Common
Council on Oct. 4. “About half the municipalities boycotted
the planning process in its entirety,” said Ellis. “I don’t
think we need a regional solid waste authority.”
The only council member who voted against forwarding the plan
that night was Dominick Calsolaro.
much was this discussed before it was approved?” he asked.
“I think we should know that before we say, ‘Yeah, this is
complete and ready to go forward, because I don’t think it
is.’ Are all these municipalities going to be willing to really
want to share our expenses?”
Ultimately, O’Brien said, “The city of Albany probably wants
to get out of the dump business and put it onto somebody else.
I don’t think Albany wants to be in the landfill business
because it’s full of a lot of headaches.”
If that is truly the case, surmised Travers, maybe the city
shouldn’t fast-track that plan to DEC after all.
comments should be sent to City Clerk John Marsolais. His
e-mail address is marsoj.ci.albany.ny.us, and his postal address
is City Hall, Room 202, 24 Eagle St., Albany, NY 12207. Copies
of the environmental impact statement may be obtained from
the city clerk or viewed online at capitalregion landfill.com
loose ends this week-