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.
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
While 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.
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).
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.
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."
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