The tension which marked previous discussions was mostly absent from an Ulster Town Board public hearing on a proposed animal husbandry law, though there remained a substantial gulf between what the town is suggesting and what some members of the public say they’ll accept.
The law as discussed during the public hearing would focus specifically on the keeping of chickens by residents within the R-10 and R-30 zones, and would prohibit owning roosters; would limit the amount of hens allowed per property to six; would require chickens be kept in a secure pen or enclosure; would require pens to be places at least 20 feet from property lines and 30 feet from neighboring houses; and would require chicken manure to be at least 30 feet from property lines.
While chickens have garnered the most interest from the public, the animal husbandry law as previously proposed covered more ground. 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 which 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 were some of the animals subject to restriction under the proposed law.
In the past, public hearings on the proposed law were marked by vocal opposition, once in the company of actual chickens. That a chicken-oriented iteration is back before the public for comment is the result of an issue between neighbors on Carle Terrace; one owns chickens, the other has a son they believe contracted a serious illness from the chickens. 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.
David and Nora Lomasney addressed the board numerous times before councilmen agreed to revisit the idea of regulating chicken ownership. At the recent public hearing, held on Thursday, Sept. 1, Town Clerk Suzanne Reavy read a letter from Nora Lomasney.
“Our son contracted a serious infection as a result of a negligent hobbyist,” read the letter. “At 2 years old, Charles had to undergo a completely avoidable surgery. His surgery removed two of his lymph nodes, which left Charles with a permanent two-inch scar on his neck and a one-inch scar behind his ear. We are not giving up protecting other citizens who may be at risk of another infection. When does the Ulster Town Board take action? Who are you protecting? The chickens? It’s not the innocent children, who can’t advocate for themselves. We are appalled by the lack of concern certain representatives of this town board have exhibited toward innocent victims.”
The letter went on to call out local media for the reporting on the Lomasney’s efforts to bring about regulation of chicken ownership.
“Blaming the victim for being victimized is unfortunately what our mainstream media has convinced most of society to view as the norm, as if to say, ‘How dare they blame the chicken owners who let the animals run amok and let them defecate all over their neighbors’ yards?’” read the letter. “Chickens are livestock. We need regulations for the livestock farmer. Charles is not going to be collateral damage so you can protect those you feel have a right to impose their potentially detrimental lifestyle on others.”
David Lomasney was in attendance at the meeting, and he spoke during the public hearing.
“I want a regulation that would restrict free range chickens from coming onto my yard,” he said. “I am talking about my yard. The yard that I mow, the yard that my wife plants flowers in, the yard that my children play in. The yard that I pay taxes for. I want a regulation that insures that neighbors keep their coops and runs sanitary and free of odors traveling into neighboring yards. All I was asking is for no chickens in my yard and the pens must be kept so the neighbors do not smell the chickens … This is not an unreasonable request … I’m not trying to shut down farming or even doing it as a hobby. But with the right regulations, neighbors can be neighbors.”
Some chicken owners said that rules about keeping chickens weren’t unreasonable, but that the proposed law as written went too far.
“At this point it is a containment issue. I have been responsibly raising chickens and a couple turkeys, rabbits, ducks for about five years now,” said Christa Montfort. “My yard is clean, my runs are clean, my chickens are contained, my neighbors are happy.”
Maria Walter said that the responsibility should fall on chicken owners to maintain a safe and clean atmosphere for their neighbors.
“What happened to Nora’s son is inexcusable,” Walter said. “But I also need to say that the blame should be laid with the people responsible. This all boils down to accountability and responsibility of a pet owner. I can understand you maybe creating an ordinance to protect people from irresponsible pet owners. But I also don’t agree with a limit of six chickens. I think that’s a little unreasonable. No one should leave their animals to destroy another person’s property. I don’t care if it’s a dog, a cat, a horse or a chicken. I think that you should set limits, reasonably.”
The public hearing was closed, but town officials will accept further public comment until the end of the month.
Town Supervisor James Quigley III said officials would review the proposed law in view of any comments received, adding that if the legislation is modified in any way it would result in another public hearing and 30-day comment period.
The next meeting of the Ulster Town Board is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 15.