Do chickens bring down residential values?

Enterprise file photo — Saranac Hale Spencer

Chicken enthusiasts and opponents debate whether laying hens should be allowed in areas zoned for residential use. A group called Guilderland Hens is encouraging the town to change the zoning law to allow backyard hens, but neighbors of residents who want to keep the hens are concerned about noises, smells, and property values.

GUILDERLAND — A Facebook group called Guilderland Hens, with over 75 supporters, is urging the town to allow backyard hens in areas zoned for residential use.

Dale Owen, who lives on Mohawk Drive, has recently been before the town’s zoning board of appeals, asking permission to build a coop in his backyard for 10 laying hens.

His neighbors have spoken in strong opposition at the two public hearings on the matter. They have voiced concerns over smells, noise, and the potential devaluation of their surrounding properties.

There are two residential properties in Guilderland — one on Lillian Road and one on Ildra Lane — that received “interpretations” from the zoning board of appeals to allow them to keep the backyard hens that they already had.

“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 Thomas Remmert, who is acting as the chairman in the Owen’s case.

Peter Barber, the chairman of the zoning board of appeals, recused himself, because he lives in Owen’s neighborhood.

One of the administrators of the Guilderland Hens Facebook page, Teri Conroy, lives in Altamont on Wunsapana Farm, which is zoned for agricultural use, and, she said, she has hens in her backyard.

“I don’t like to use the word ignorant,” said Conroy. “But, I do think the neighbors who are opposing the hens have no basis for their concerns; they have no experience with hens.”

Conroy said backyard hens are just like any other pet.

“Honestly, what they deposit is less than the waste from a dog, and they make less noise than a dog, too,” she said.

Gerard Houser, director of the Guilderland Community Gardens, is another backyard hen supporter. He previously owned hens when he was living on Long Island, and said that many municipalities are changing their zoning laws to allow laying hens.

“I think a lot of the opposition stems from people comparing this to a barnyard situation,” said Houser. “That’s not what this would be.”

Houser also called backyard hens pets and said, since most people view them as such, they would be well cared for and maintained, just as any dog or cat would.

“If you maintain a clean coop, and there is no reason to believe that anyone wouldn’t, you won’t have any odor,” he said.

Backyard hens, because they are so few in number, can’t be compared to people’s experiences with chicken farms, said Conroy.

“A chicken farm could be compared to having 50 dogs in your backyard instead of one or two,” she said. “Of course, if you had that amount of any animal you would have problems if you weren’t living on a farm.”

Lauren Meacham, a Realtor with Prudential Manor Homes, said that whether or not the presence of backyard hens has any affect on the value of neighboring homes depends on the type of neighborhood.

“If you have a close-knit development where the houses are right on top of each other then it might be a problem,” said Meacham. “People worry about hens attracting other animals and the smell and things like that.”

If the houses are spaced farther apart or zoned for hens, it wouldn’t pose a problem, she said.

Dee Jones, a Realtor with Realty USA, said the effects of backyard hens on local real-estate values have “yet to be seen.”

“Real estate figures show that property values in other areas have been unaffected by these ordinances being passed,” said Jones. “Any poorly-maintained property will have an effect on neighboring properties, just as well-maintained property will — chickens could go either way.”

Jones said there is a chance that the local code may be “revamped” to allow backyard hens.

Remmert confirmed that there is a possibility that a new law specifying whether backyard hens are allowed in residential zones will be created, but it is up to the town board to create the laws, and up to the zoning board only to enforce or interpret them.

“Hens really are sweet pets,” Conroy said. “Mine come when I call them and sit in my lap and everything.”

She also emphasized that, just like any other pet, hens teach children responsibility.

“The kids can help clean up and gather the eggs,” she said. “Plus, it’s a pet that gives you food!”

Owen’s main reason for wanting to keep backyard hens is for the eggs, which his family eats a lot of, he told the zoning board.

The zoning board of appeals will make a decision on Owen’s case at its May 21 meeting.