September 3, 2014

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Amherst Council members get back scrambled surveys on city chickens

AMHERST — Two surveys conducted by Amherst City Council members to determine what residents thought about a controversial farming ordinance that bars chicken ownership in the city yielded very different results last week.

In a Facebook survey created by City Council Member Phil Van Treuren last week, 75 percent of the 333 responders said they would like to change a city ordinance that prohibits landowners from farming on fewer than 5 acres of land. The change could allow Amherst residents who live on fewer than 5 acres to own and raise chickens.

The results were in stark contrast to a similar anonymous survey sent by email from City Council Members David Goodell and Jennifer Wasilk last week.

In their survey, around 55 percent of the 547 responders said they do not want people to own and raise chickens on fewer than 5 acres of land. Only 39 percent said they would like to change the ordinance and the remaining were undecided.

For Van Treuren, the survey was just a way to get a better understanding of how residents feel about the ordinance, which has been a source of debate since the summer.

“I wanted to get some kind of clarity,” Van Treuren said, adding that he doesn’t think the survey was an accurate representation of the community’s thoughts because it wasn’t anonymous. “Even though the results were skewed, I still think it is a 50-50 split.”

Goodell said the results of his anonymous survey have made him rethink his vote at the next discussion.

“I’m here to represent the masses. That’s where my vote is going to,” Goodell said, adding that before the results of the survey returned, he thought the community was more inclined to allow people to raise chickens.

Now that he knows a larger percent of people who replied to his email prefer to prohibit chicken ownership on smaller plots of land, he plans to keep that in mind at the next City Council meeting.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.