Pecking at the Albany backyard chicken issue

Michael Guidice

Michael Guidice making his case for backyard chickens in Albany.

The proposal to allow backyard chickens in Albany is moving on to a vote before the full Common Council.

The council's law, buildings and code enforcement committee voted 3-1 Thursday night to pass along the ordinance to the full council without a recommendation. "[The result] was better than we expected," said Michael Guidice, who's been leading the backyard chicken effort with his wife Jen Pursley (remember, it was their backyard coop that got this issue buzzing).

The vote came after some spirited clucking back and forth on the issue.

committee room wide

Where the law's at now

The backyard chicken proposal has been amended since it was first proposed by common councilman Dominick Calsalaro. Among the new provisions:

+ A requirement for neighbor consent (the original proposal required neighbor notification).

+ A limit on 50 chicken permits citywide.

And two new changes proposed Thursday night:

+ A requirement for the chickens to be kept in the rear of the property, behind the building.

+ A requirement that chickens and their eggs only be raised for personal use (not to be sold).

The back and forth

Calsolaro and HerringWhile presenting the measure to the committee, Calsolaro met resistance from other council members sitting in at the meeting -- mainly committee chair Joe Igoe and councilman Daniel Herring (he proposed the 2001 measure that banned chickens in Albany).

The main opposition:

+ Concerns about the effect chickens would have on property values. Herring said he'd heard from "numerous" people worried about that issue.

+ Concerns about diseases that might come along with keeping chickens, and how owners would deal with sick chickens. Also, there were worries about the predators the birds might draw.

+ Concerns about the burden chicken permitting would place on the already-stretched codes department.

+ Jackie Jenkins-Cox, who was mostly quiet during the meeting, expressed concern about enforcing the rules and worries that allowing backyard chickens would open the way for cock fighting. (She ended up as the lone vote against moving the measure to the full council.)

During the public comment period (all in favor of the measure), Mike Guidice appeared well-prepared to take on the concerns point by point:

+ He said the neighbor consent provision should address worries about chickens affecting property values. If neighbors are worried, they can say no.

+ On the public health issue, he cited a CDC statement that backyard chickens do not need to be removed because of worries about avian flu. And he cited another report indicating that small flocks are better at resisting disease than the large factory operations. (We'll try to get the link for that second report.)

+ On straining the codes department, he argued that 50 permits would not weigh down a department that currently fields thousands of requests each year.

+ On cock fighting, he pointed out that the measure only allows hens -- not roosters -- and female chickens are docile and not prone to fighting.

mike guidice at committee hearing

There did seem to be a bit of frustration on the part of both Calsolaro and Guidice. At one point, Calsolaro seemed exasperated that he had made multiple changes to the measure in response to critics and, yet, they continued to find fault. And Guidice said toward the end of his public comment that the situation had turned "absurd" as the council dragged out the issue (his comment drew applause from the full gallery).

Post game

Said Mike after the meeting:

I was coming into that meeting not necessarily expecting a positive review ... I knew some of positions of the council members was in opposition to chickens. But as we've done through out the campaign, our meditation is to be positive, to try to reach out and connect with that opposition and provide them with facts. Because, really, as far as backyard chicken raising is concerned, the facts dictate that it's appropriate for cities, that it works well, that it connects people to their food, that it's safe, it's healthy ... this is something that would be good for our city.

Said Dominick Calsalaro:

I think it's at the point where i can't make any more changes to satisfy them. So let's have the whole council vote on it and see where it goes. ... I've tried to satisfy everyone's concerns. And some people are just going to be steadfast and not change the vote no matter how many changes you make. ... I think I've comprised about 80 percent of the two-way street.

Daniel Herring said afterward that he thought the chicken advocates are underplaying the public health issues -- and overplaying the sustainability benefits (mainly because the scale is small). He said he supports developing a sustainable, local food system -- but he sees it more as a regional arrangement in which nearby rural areas could support more urban areas. And he said, even with the neighbor consent provision, he was still skeptical about chickens' potential affect on surrounding properties. Noting that the provision puts people in the position to have to say no to their neighbors, he said: "Do people really relish the opportunity to get into a neighborhood dispute?"

Herring added that he respects the efforts Guidice has made and the ability he's demonstrated in organizing support for the issue.

What's next?

The measure next goes before the whole Common Council for a vote, probably sometime later in May. What's the likely result? Counting possible votes after Thursday's meeting, Herring concluded: "It's going to be close."


"+ Jackie Jenkins-Cox, who was mostly quiet during the meeting, expressed concern about enforcing the rules and worries that allowing backyard chickens would open the way for cock fighting."

Things we can't tell Jackie, because it would crush her:
* chickens aren't roosters
* there's an old saying Mark Twain says about staying quiet versus opening one's mouth and sounding ignorant
* Albany allows dogs even though some people make those fight too!
* She is woefully inept

@Kevin: In fairness to her, I think her argument was more along the lines of "you give people an inch and they'll take a mile." If you allow hens, then it could potentially lead to people bringing in roosters. And without follow up enforcement, it would be hard to stay on top of that.

But, you're right -- dogs are allowed. And, sadly, they are involved in fights, too.

I think it's important to be mindful that people fight too. They allow people in the city. ... Then again, you can't really eat people as easily as you can eat chickens.... :)

I agree with what Guidice said, this whole thing has become absurd. For something that should never have been an issue in the first place to become such a Kafkaesque joke just speaks to the inability of the common council to do... Anything!

From the looks of it, the bill itself has been comprised to death. Requiring neighbor consent? That effectively kills it in my neighborhood. Sometimes it really discourages me how anti-progressive this city can be.

These fossilized creeps aren't going to last another progressive elections. Get them and Jennings outtt.

@Bill and @Kevin Just because you present something in an articulate, albeit condescending manner, and wear suit and tie while doing it, doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. If you can't stand up to your neighbor's opinnion of your hipster farm, than why should others be burdened with any responsibility to it? Namely the cost and effort of enforcing the new code. What is absurd here is the level arrogance and sense of entitlement.

Neighbors' consent? My neighbors didn't have to get my consent when they brought home their yapping chihuahua. Chickens are likely to be a lesser nuisance than many dogs in the city.

@Mirkat - if vegans want respect they need to be respectful of other people's diets too. There are many other chicken farming operations you can be criticizing, these small, family-owned, backyard coops are not one.

Like a few people articulated last night, this is not rocket-science folks. Many other cities allow people to keep hens in their backyard for eggs and they don't have any of the issues some of our councilman are afraid may rise from this proposal. This is a matter of moving Albany forward, being competitive with other small cities, being relevant, and being consistent with the City's sustainability goals.

After reading this blog, I'm not sure why anyone on that council should show any respect for the Guidace proposal:

It appears that Michael Guidace has scripted himself in an "absurd kafkaesque" after school special on how to "take it to the man". It's kind of funny.


1) Calling yourself Albany Jen is totally pretentious, but...

2) Not nearly as pretentious as your rhetorical statement: "This is a matter of moving Albany forward, being competitive with other small cities, being relevant, and being consistent with the City's sustainability goals"

This statement does however succeed in furthering the condescending tone and tenor of the proposition. Raising chickens in your backyard isn't as sustainable as supporting local farmers. Not even remotely, if you consider cost per unit of production. I also can't see how the proposal would make Albany "more competitive" as a city. Are you suggesting people looking to move to a new city look for a box to check next to a line that reads "hipster chicken farming allowed". Also, farming in itself is important, but not necessarily "moving forward". Moving forward from hunting and gathering maybe. As far as being "relevant"? How?

It would be refreshing if you people could present this without all of the self important posturing.

Thanks for the link, get real, though it'd be more appreciated somewhere I hadn't posted it already. It is funny that someone whose username infers that they have a direct link to reality and anyone that disagrees is deluding themselves is calling other people out on being pretentious.

You should write a blog yourself; you're articulate, and clearly have opinions that are more in-depth than you're presenting here. The hipster community of Albany awaits with baited breath your refreshing satire and pointed commentary on their (our?) misadventures and self-important posturing.

mr. slow loris,

It's bated, not baited. She wants chickens, not to catch fish.

Careful there, pretentiousness is not often spotted by the humble.

@get real:
You make some... well thought out points. What's wrong here is your perspective.

The idea is that by being progressive and allowing people to rely more on themselves, you are cutting down on people's dependance on money to feed themselves, which allows them to spend it on other things. It has long reaching social and economic implications.

People ARE entitled to raise their own animals and it has nothing to do with being a hipster. The problem here is that someone decided to spend the money and the effort to stop this, so people are looking for a middle ground while it is proven to be safe. The idea is not to only allow 50 permits forever, but to open the door to future legislation.

@ummm (who is probably Get Real): You can't come up with a counter point so you attack him on the basis of a typo? Get out of here, troll. You have no place in a serious discussion.

@AlbanyJen, I do not think I have been disrespectful, nor did I intend to be. I have, however, noted a disrespectful tone from the backyard chicken proponents, seemingly based on the premise that anyone who disagrees with them on this issue is by definition not progressive and against sustainability. I AM a progressive, I AM all for sustainability, BUT I disagree with you on this.

If you have not already, please watch the video clip I embedded in the blog entry I linked above. As I noted in the entry, most backyard chickens come from hatcheries. The video clip was shot as an undercover investigation of a typical hatchery.

I'm pleased to see Albany residents getting their feathers ruffled about this issue.

Hopefully we'll see if city chickens (and their eggs) are all they are cracked up to be?

I am opposed to chickens being raised in the city.
If they want to raise farm animals let them go to the country!
My grandmother died of the avain flu in 1918!
Does Albany want to pay for big law suits when people start getting sick, and DYING!
I don't want to hear clucking,have vermin,varmits, and all the other dilseases codes could NEVER,EVER,EVER keep up with!
This whole thing is ridiculous, STOP THIS NONSENSES NOW!

Folks: If the crux of someone's argument is that everyone who disagrees with them is being condescending and pretentious, they're probably not worth responding to.

So many of the negative posts here are from the same person, I'll just refer to them all as such.

1) The 1918 flu pandemic was NOT caused by birds, but by by lowered immunity to foreign disease and pre-exsiting health conditions from such things as poor diet, stress, and poor sanitation. This has been well documented.

2) Chickens will be confined to the property of their owner, they will not be roaming the streets.

3) The cost of permitting 50 coops is 1 thousandth of 1 percent of the cost of enforcement for the thousands of standard building permits issued every year. Inspection will be complaint driven, thus inspections will only before those coop owners not in compliance. A relatively few people wil go through the tedious process to obtain an permit, and not follow the law. Why bother? They could break the law TODAY and no one would care. Mike and Jen had a coop for years. There's a coop AND a rooster a few doors down from Councilman John Rosenzweig's home on Mohican Place in Albany and no one seems to be ruffled up about that. Coop permit holders would be charged for the privledge.

Issuing permits does not expose the city to liability if someone were to be injured on private property. Consider what would happen if that was the case - the city wouldn't pave roads because of all the crashes that happen here, either.

3)"If you can't stand up to your neighbor's opinion of your hipster farm...the level arrogance and sense of entitlement." - How come we can't disagree without the name-calling and vitriol??! That said, the neighbor approval condition of the permit means if your neighbor doesn't want you to have a coop, then you don't get one.

4) Can anyone tell me ANY permit in this city where the permit's issuance is based not on a set of standards and criteria, but upon the consent of a neighboring property owner?

5) Can anyone tell me an example by which property value was held is such high regard before the consideration of an ordinance?

6) Finally, I love pro sports, I drive an SUV, I eat meat, I don't have glasses or ironic T-shirts, I wear khaki pants and blue button down shirts, and my favorite TV show is "Top Gear." I don't think I'm a hipster by the common definition, but I would like the freedom to raise backyard hens. Can anyone tell me what a Hipster is so I'll know if I am one? Thanks.

I had to add this too.Albany, despite some folks' efforts to make this issue out to be unique and uncharted, there are dozens of cases around the US where communities have been able to enact legislation to allow residential coops. Check out the link I posted from Albany Law School's Patricia Salkin.

Abstract "As the local and regional food shed movement and the urban agriculture movement continue to grow, uses once considered only found on the rural farm are now finding their ways into urban and suburban communities. As a result, municipalities across the country are now facing the challenge of regulating the keeping of chickens in residential districts. From nuisance law to zoning regulations addressing the number of hens that may be kept on parcels, whether roosters are allowed, the size and location of coops and other issues, this article reviews the rapidly developing trends in this area of land use law." See the link.

A note, Ms. Salkin has written Supreme Court briefs on zoning and land use. I don't think you could find a better legal mind to weigh in.

Daley -

hipster (hip'stur) n. A person, usually in their twenties and preferably liberal, that a person disagrees with.

Where chickens roam.....Lyme disease rates are lower or non's the biggest gun in your arsenal.
Where there are no chickens....Lyme disease rules.
How many people got lyme disease in Albany County?

638 diagnosed cases of lyme disease in Albany county for 2009 there GGGREGGG. and Chiskens do eat deer ticks. and before you ask no you can't get lyme from a chicken that ate a tick. or from it's egg.

No, no, come, he was saying that chickens are good because they eat ticks.

Unfortunately, my city is considering this too. I am against it. If you want livestock, go live on a farm.

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