Zoning board denies request for hens

Enterprise file photo — Saranac Hale Spencer

Chickening out? Guilderland's zoning board did not approve a request for one resident to keep hens, although it has approved two others' in the past.

GUILDERLAND — Dale Owen’s request to keep chickens in his Guilderland backyard was denied by the town’s zoning board at its meeting last night.

The board’s chairman, Peter Barber, recused himself from the vote, because he lives in Owen’s neighborhood.

Since member Sharon Cupoli was absent, the remaining three members of the five-member board would have had to vote unanimously in favor of the motion. Michael Marcantonio and Thomas Remmert voted yes. But Sindi Saita voted no so the motion to interpret the zoning law and allow Owen to have chickens did not pass.

“If I’d had to guess, I would have said that was the direction it would go in,” Owen told The Enterprise after the May 21 meeting.

“I am disappointed,” he said. “Who wouldn’t be?”

Owen, who lives on Mohawk Drive, had appeared before the board twice already, during public hearings, where some of his neighbors adamantly opposed his plan to keep 10 laying hens in a coop in back of his residential home.

The neighbors cited concerns over smells, sounds, and the potential devaluation of their surrounding properties.

“If I had gotten approval, I wouldn’t have changed my plan because people didn’t like it,” said Owen. “Life’s not a popularity contest.”

His main reason for wanting to keep the hens, he said, was for the eggs, which his family eats a lot of.

Two residential properties in Guilderland — one on Lillian Road and one on Ildra Lane – previously received interpretations from the zoning board to allow them to keep the chickens they already had. The law is silent on the matter.

“Since there is no direct ruling on hens in the current zoning law, it is up to the board to interpret the law and decide whether a certain use is allowed,” said Remmert earlier; he was acting as the chairman in Owen’s case due to Barber’s recusal.

The town’s zoning review committee, which has been analyzing and updating the zoning laws to reflect Guilderland’s comprehensive plan, will be suggesting a change to the code that would allow any residential property to have backyard hens.

A Facebook group called Guilderland Hens, with over 75 supporters, is urging the town to allow backyard hens in areas zoned for residential use. They note its part of a national trend for locally sourced food.

The town board could vote on the committee’s proposed change within the next month.

“I could get another bite at the cherry,” said Owen.

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