Local laws should allow citizens to follow their dreams

To the Editor:

I was pleased to read in last week’s Altamont Enterprise the article: “Will the chickens come home to roost?” [online at www.AltamontEnterprise.com] on the topic of backyard pet hens and the application of Dale Owen now before the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals to determine if the keeping of up to 10 hens is consistent with the purpose of a single-family zone.

The more folks understand the concept of pet hens, the more they will be receptive to their neighbors who wish to engage in this wonderful hobby.

To supplement the information in that article, I maintained a flock of 12 hens for several years in St. James, Long Island and prior to that, the same number in Queens County. Our property lot in Queens was a mere 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep, a street of approximately 50 attached houses; the property on Long Island was about one-quarter acre.

In both locations, the neighbors enjoyed having the opportunity to observe one of nature’s most interesting and productive animals.

Many New York State municipalities permit pet hens including Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, the town of Huntington, New Hempstead, New York City (all five boroughs), Riga/Churchville, the town of Smithtown, Syracuse, White Plains, Saratoga Springs, and many more.

The North American list includes some of the most prestigious and attractive municipalities in the nation including Chicago, Orlando, Ann Arbor, Las Vegas, Boston, Vancouver, Toronto, Charlotte, San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Indianapolis, and many more. Surely these municipalities considered all aspects of the subject and subsequently adopted laws to allow their citizens the choice to keep a limited number of pet chickens for family use and enjoyment.

The article reported that some individuals spoke in opposition to the pending ZBA application because of the potential reduction of property values.

The prestigious financial publication, Forbes magazine, issue of Sept. 10, 2010 in the article, “America’s Best Housing Markets for Investors” states: “Over the years some have argued that keeping chickens at home would negatively affect property values in an already depressed economy. Major cities like New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Seattle all allow people to keep chickens on their residential property. While the specific ordinances differ in each location, what remains constant is that there is no data to show that chicken keeping has negatively impacted real estate property values anywhere across the country.”

Forbes goes on to note that among the 10 sickest housing markets, only three allow backyard chickens.

I've had an interest in urban agriculture and this topic all my life, growing up in New York City with its immigrant population and its ethos of self-reliance. Perhaps my father's influence was the greatest as he was the true Renaissance man.

He was an athlete who on ice skates could jump eight large wooden barrels, a violinist, an actor in local Queens theater groups, a night-watchman in a cemetery no less, working his way through college and law school and finally opening his own law practice at 135 Broadway in lower Manhattan. It was he who set an example for my sister, brother, and me to consider all possibilities with merit, and, of course, who introduced our family to gardening and chickens as was the tradition in his family.

In over 60 years, I have never read of a law that was ever rescinded because of a negative impact on the community. We are all entitled to our own preferences with just about every aspect of life: what kind of car we drive; what is our favorite food; and what kind of pet, if any, is best for our family. Local laws and governments should enable its citizens to follow their dreams absent justification to the contrary.

Anyone interested in seeing three wonderful videos about backyard pet hens are encouraged to view the following YouTube videos:

— Girl introduces her five hens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfp2jPgcu_4

— Senior citizen enjoys her three hens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y_oxglPe5xY

— Vancouver: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXHAJXNAnkM

Gerard Houser
Guilderland

Editor’s note: Gerard Houser is the coordinator of the Guilderland Community Garden.

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