The Ulster Town Board will revisit a proposed animal husbandry law after a dispute among neighbors on Carle Terrace was erroneously reported as having been settled.
David Lomasney initially brought the issue to a town board meeting in May, saying his then-two-year old son was recovering from surgery to remove a growth from his neck caused by mycobacterium avian infection, adding that it may have happened because his neighbors have chickens which used to move freely onto his property. A proposed animal husbandry law introduced last fall was met with considerable opposition from within the community, and after an extensive public comment period the matter was dropped.
According to town officials, that law was not designed to restrict farming. In October 2014, Town Assessor James Maloney put together a committee comprising Deputy Supervisor Eric Kitchen, Councilman John Morrow and town Building Inspector Kathryn Moniz to consider a new law to address animal husbandry. The proposed law which grew out of the committee would “restrict the keeping of horses, farm animals and fowl” within the R-10 and R-30 zones, excluding common house pets and animals in use by individuals involved in a 4-H project. In addition to chickens and roosters, sheep, goats, alpaca, llamas, pigs, mink, raccoons, horses and miniature equine are some of the animals subject to restriction under the proposed law. Zones R-10 and R-30 make up roughly 29 percent of the town.
As it pertained to chickens, the proposed law would have limited residents in the affected zones to six chickens kept in a henhouse or other fenced-in enclosure.
At a town board workshop meeting back on June 2, Town Clerk Suzanne Reavy read a letter from Lomasney’s neighbor, Edward Hixson, which echoed the overriding sentiment of many of the people who spoke against stricter animal husbandry regulations last year: Neighbors should work things out amongst themselves.
“Rather than an argument that restrictive regulations are needed that would limit the freedom of many town residents to have chickens, the argument could be made that if neighbors communicate effectively with one another and are concerned to maintain each other’s rights, then restrictive regulations may not be called for or necessary,” wrote Hixson.
Hixson added that he’d initially believed any issues between the neighbors had been settled months earlier after it was brought to his attention that the chickens had left the property and made a mess on the Lomasney’s patio.
“I apologized for the harm caused and told him we would make sure that this did not happen again,” wrote Hixson. “Let me be clear that I understand that my neighbor has every right to insist that our chickens entirely stay off his property.”
Hixson said that because Lomasney didn’t reach out to him after that, he believed the matter was resolved. In May, he learned otherwise.
“Then all of a sudden we get the visits from town and county functionaries and read the article in the local newspaper,” Hixson wrote.
Lomasney said the law could have prevented what happened to his son from occurring, and he took umbrage in June when Councilman John Morrow told the Kingston Times that the disease could have come from any number of different animals, both winged and otherwise.
“Quite frankly, there are 50 different things that could cause their son’s disease,” Morrow said. “Chickens or fowl being one of them. But it could be any kind of fowl. It could be geese, it could be crows, it could be robins. It could be anything really. It could be deer.”
Lomasney disagreed. “Deer do not give off microbacterium avium,” he said. “Avium is bird. So that’s the first clue that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Mycobacterium avium complex can commonly be found in food, water and soil. In concentrated amounts, the germs can cause serious illness in those with weakened immune systems, such as toddlers. Lomasney said that while his son is recovering from his surgery, he has a four-inch scar on his neck.
“An eagle could have flown by and [expletived] on my property, there’s no doubt about that,” Lomasney said. “Any type of bird could have made that happen. But when my property is covered with it, and my child is playing in it, and before Easter, these birds were on my property all the time. My kids would chase them, run after them. And then we looked at our property and said, wow, they are [expletiving] everywhere.”
At a meeting of the Town Board on Thursday, June 16, Frank Rittie, Jr. said he’d had a change of heart about some aspects of the animal husbandry law. Last fall, Rittie said that the law would “diminish my ability to be self-sufficient” because it would prohibit him from buying large quantities of chickens.
“If I cannot have a rooster, I cannot raise chickens,” Rittie said at the time. “It’s a minimum of six chickens that you can buy as chicks, and they’re not guaranteed to be hens. So what do I do with all these roosters that are coming? I’m not a genie, I can’t make them just disappear.”
With the town board considering bringing the proposed law back for review, Rittie said he might be more open to it this time around.
“I would probably support a law that would say ‘OK, you’ve got to keep your chickens in a pen,’” he said. “After I came [last fall] and this law got beaten, I did put the chickens in the pen because that’s what a neighbor would do.”
At the same meeting, Norah Lomasney challenged councilmen to reconsider the proposed law.
“It’s a public health issue now,” she said. “People need to be aware, if you have chickens living next to you and they go to the bathroom in your yard, you can’t just have your kids out in your yard chasing the chickens away. There’s a chance your child can contract a serious infection.”
Quigley said he would have no issue bringing the proposed law back for review, but asked the Lomasneys whether they would be willing to back the will of the people regardless of the outcome.
“If this town board puts this piece of legislation back on the agenda and goes through the process, will you abide by the majority of people that show up in this room either for or against supporting that law to be passed in this town?” said Quigley. “We live in a democracy where democracy rules. If they bring out 50 people and you bring out 100 people, the board is going to listen to 100 people.”
David Lomasney said a report from the Ulster County Health Department noted strong smells emanating from the chickens’ coop, but Quigley maintained that there were no references to violations of any public health standards in the single-page report.
The report, prepared by James Rodden of the Ulster County Health Department, noted that mycobacterium avium interstitial “is an infection caused by exposure to bird feces.” The report also indicates three follow-up visits after the initial visit on Friday, May 20, during which no droppings were observed. The report also states that the chickens were not observed outside their pens on follow-up visits on May 23, June 3 and June 8.
Cluck cluck bang bang?
But David Lomasney said he has further concerns that the board might not give the proposed law fair consideration, referring to a visit by Morrow.
“There’s a lot of conflicting interest on the board,” Lomasney said. “John Morrow told me to me face in front of my wife and my children, ‘Why don’t you kill the chickens if they come on your property?’ You can’t discharge a firearm within town limits like that. He goes, ‘You have a pellet gun or a bow and arrow.’ This is a councilman of the Ulster board. That’s nonsense. That’s Wild West [expletive].”
This week, Morrow disputed Lomasney’s account of the conversation. “I didn’t advise him to do that, first of all; nor would I,” Morrow said. “I said he legally could, because once they come into his yard it’s no different than a wild bird. And as long as it wasn’t an illegal firearm it wouldn’t be a violation of law. He stretched the truth on many occasions, that being one of them.”
Morrow said he believed David Lomasney and Hixson had settled their differences, noting that he believed the tone changed when Norah Lomasney joined the conversation.
“His wife was like, ‘No [expletive] way,’ excuse the expression,” Morrow said. “’I’m not accepting the deal you made with my husband.’ All of a sudden the whole deal changed. You can’t make a deal and go back on it, you know?”
David Lomasney said the best chance of something similar not happening again, on his property or another, is to pass an animal husbandry law.
“Once there’s a law in place there’s a responsibility in place,” he said. “Right now there’s no responsibility, so nobody has to own [up to] anything. No matter what your chicken does, any damages they create, it’s nobody’s fault.”