Altamont considers allowing hens

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin
A young woman named Bianca made an appeal to the Altamont Village Board in 2022 in full-fowl wear to consider a law that would permit villagers to keep chickens on their properties.

ALTAMONT — Altamont is again seeking the public’s opinion on a law that would allow villagers to keep chickens on their properties after a similar law had received little support in 2019. The public hearing will be held on Oct. 3.

Mayor Kerry Dineen explained at the village board’s July 18 meeting that they were reviving the effort following a conversation she had with interested resident Cathy Glass, and first wanted to get an informal reading of the public’s interest before drafting the local law that was unveiled at the Sept. 5 meeting (attached at the bottom of the agenda). 

The law would restrict the keeping of chickens — up to six, with no roosters permitted — by single-family households to noncommercial uses, subject to an inspection by the town’s building department to ensure that the set-up is in line with the local regulations. Slaughtering on the property would be forbidden.

The minimum lot size for eligible properties would be 10,000 square feet (around .23 acres), and residents would be restricted to a single henhouse and chicken run, both of which would be required for a permit to be renewed annually. 

In addition to meeting specific design requirements, the henhouse and chicken run would need to be situated at least 10 feet from the back and side property lines, and at least 50 feet from neighboring residences. They would be permitted only in backyards, and, for corner lots, must be kept to the “rear wall of the applicant’s home.” They would need to be obscured from view from neighboring properties. 

Before the law was drafted, several residents spoke in favor of such a law at the July meeting, in addition to the five or so whom Dineen said had sent in letters of support. 

John Polk — who, in 2022, had unsuccessfully applied for a special-use variance to allow him to keep chickens on his 20-acre Bozenkill Road property — said at the July meeting that his petition for the board to consider a chicken law had received over 200 signatures. 

The village’s attorney, Allyson Phillips, had told Polk at the time that part of the difficulty in obtaining a variance is meeting the high standard that justifies an individual permit while others are still prohibited from whatever the permit is for, leading Polk to begin his petition. 

Resident Andrew Edelson told the village board at the July meeting that over his life he has lived in “urban environments” that have allowed free-range chickens and that people being able to keep chickens was “very beneficial.”

“It helps with ticks, it helps with infestation, and they’re generally very docile, easy, and happy … in different types of environments,” he said.

Altamont resident Kate Provencher, who said she had helped to draft the 2019 legislation, said she was “chagrined” that that law hadn’t passed.

“I also think,” she said, “that the last three years of the [COVID-19] pandemic has shown that people have an interest in being able to grow their own food and be more organic, and being able to keep chickens in a village is part of that.”

Last year, Knox Agricultural Advisory Committee Chairman Gary Kleppel told The Enterprise that, in his experience, the pandemic had made people more mindful of food security, and that isolation drove an interest in reconnecting with the land. 

Stephen Hadcock, a Beginning Farmer and Market Development expert with Cornell Cooperative Extension, told The Enterprise the same thing in 2020. 

Local municipalities have allowed chickens in recent years. The city of Albany, for example, allows up to six hens in lots with yards of at least 200 square feet.

At Altamont’s July meeting, a resident whose name could not be heard clearly said he had been keeping chickens on a Guilderland property he owns for the past year and that, prior to having chickens, he and his dogs would often accumulate ticks on that property. Since having chickens, he said, “I don’t even think about ticks over there anymore because they’re just not there.” 

He also said that chickens tend not to roam, and that his grandchildren “love them.” 

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