October 1, 2014

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Two readings ahead for moratorium on Amherst chicken rule

Amherst City Council member Jennifer Wasilk speaks at Amherst City Council Meeting on an resolution declaring a moratorium on enforcement of certain prohibitions in Amherst on Sep. 23.  On left is Phil Van Treuren.   Steve Manheim

Amherst City Council member Jennifer Wasilk, right, speaks on a resolution declaring a moratorium on enforcement of certain prohibitions in Amherst as Phil Van Treuren listens. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

AMHERST— A moratorium on a city ordinance that allows residents to raise chickens on only large plots of land fell a vote short of passage Monday night in Amherst City Council.

The issue has become a point of contention after recent complaints to the building inspector from Amherst residents about their neighbors owning chickens on smaller city plots.

This is the first time a moratorium on the law has been voted on by Council.

The proposal to allow people to own chickens on fewer than 5 acres for the next six months needed five votes to pass. However, when it was proposed to Council on Monday night, four Council members were in favor of the moratorium and two were against it.

The proposed moratorium will now go through two more Council readings before a final decision.

The ordinance currently states that a person cannot farm — including own and raise chickens — on fewer than 5 acres of land.

At-large Councilman Phil Van Treuren, a Republican, said that many members of Council are trying to get the ordinance changed to allow people who live on fewer than five acres to keep chickens on their property for non-commercial purposes.

“(Some Council members) want to see a moratorium so that people don’t have to get rid of their chickens while we change the law,” Van Treuren said.

The moratorium would be for six months, though Van Treuren said that he hopes it would take less than that amount of time to change the ordinance.

Among the two in opposition to the moratorium was Council member Jennifer Wasilk, who has concerns about the public health effects of allowing people to raise chickens on fewer than 5 acres. Wasilk explained that the ordinance is the only law in Amherst that protects Amherst citizens from poultry-borne diseases.

“It’s not in the best interest of the community and neighbors to void a public health law without having a replacement on the books,” Wasilk said.

Wasilk added that diseases can be spread more easily from chickens to people if they exist on a smaller lot.

“(On property which is less than 5 acres) you can’t control access to your lot carefully enough to prevent transmission,” Wasilk said.

Wasilk agrees with Van Treuren that the ordinance should be changed but she does not think it should be changed to allow people with small city plots to own chickens.

Rather, Wasilk would like the ordinance changed so that the definition of farming doesn’t include owning poultry in the same category as other acts such as growing grapes or raising bees.

“Raising bees or grapes is not the same health issue,” Wasilk said.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman @chroniclet.com.