December 18, 2014

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Amherst Council advances amended chicken ordinance

AMHERST — Small changes resulted in a big step forward in a debate that has been plaguing the city of Amherst for almost a year.

At a City Council meeting Monday, Council members addressed the issue of owning chickens on fewer than five acres of land. In a 5-1 vote, Council advanced an ordinance to allow residents to own a maximum of four chickens on up to one acre of land past its first reading. Additionally with the amended ordinance, residents would be able to own more chickens on larger plots of land.

Though the decision was a result of months of deliberation and debate between chicken owners in Amherst and members of Council, Councilman-at-large Phil Van Treuren said the amended ordinance is not that different from the original.

“(Residents) have always had the ability to have four chickens,” Treuren said, adding that the amended ordinance merely reinforced that ability and extended it to include owning more chickens on larger plots of land.

The issue surrounding chicken ownership was first brought up last summer when the Amherst Building Department started enforcing a codified ordinance that prohibited residents from farming on fewer than five acres of land. Initially, “farming” was believed to include owning chickens, sparking a debate among chicken owners who didn’t want their poultry taken away. Over the spring, Law Director Tony Pecora said chicken ownership doesn’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of farming.

Another ordinance on the books allowed residents to own up to four chickens on one acre of land.

The new amendment largely mirrors the original ordinance and months of debate made some residents dissatisfied with the original law.

At Monday’s meeting, some Council members argued for allowing six chickens on up to one acre of land.

“I’m a big proponent of giving people the opportunity to make mistakes … I don’t want to beat these people up, and I want to give them the opportunity to be good neighbors,” Council member Chuck Winiarski said, explaining his reasons for supporting the proposal of residents owning six chickens on one acre of land.

But Council member Jennifer Wasilk disagreed with Winiarski

“I will not support this because we have worked for six months to come up with a compromise,” she said.

The amendment will go to a second reading at Council’s next meeting.

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