ITHACA, N.Y. — A committee of Ithaca’s Common Council will consider a proposal to allow “up to four” chickens per city lot tonight at City Hall.

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It’s currently illegal to keep chickens within city limits. The issue drew attention recently when someone in Ithaca began going around anonymously reporting illegal chicken-owners, putting Ithaca police — who prefer to consider it a low-priority — in a difficult position.

See related: Fate of Ithaca chickens debated after unknown tipster stirs nest

Common Council member Seph Murtagh, of Ithaca’s second ward, noted that there’s a backstory to the chicken debate.

“This is an issue that’s come up in the past in Ithaca, and it’s been a tough one to solve. The last time the City visited this issue a few years ago, I think there was a whole licensing system that was proposed, and it didn’t really fly, because it would have created a lot of work for city staff.”

“The proposal this time around is much simpler – city residents can keep up to a maximum of four hens – but we are at the very beginning of our discussion, and I’m sure the public will have a lot to say on the matter. I know it’s an issue that’s really important to many folks in Ithaca, and I hope we can figure out a solution.”
Murtagh noted that the proposal is still preliminary.

“We’re discussing it tonight; if the committee is willing to move forward we’ll bring it back to the committee in August. It’s just a discussion tonight,” Murtagh said.

There are many advocates who want chickens legalized in the city. Peggy Tully, who runs a Facebook page supporting the legalization of chickens in Ithaca, told the Ithaca Voice recently that “there’s a disconnect between Common Council’s understanding of the reasoning behind backyard chickens and what the actual reasoning is.”

As we previously reported: Tully said she organized the group called City of Ithaca NY Backyard Chickens NOW, which has more than 200 likes on Facebook, “to show the city that there is a lot of support for this, despite what Common Council is saying.”

“Common Council has considered this in the past but no resolution could be reached and the idea was set aside,” states the agenda from the city’s planning and economic development committee.

“In reality, given the localvore movement, the desire for organically grown foods, and food security issues, we are seeing more and more people living in the City raising chickens (in violation of the ordinance) or wanting to requesting permission to raise chickens.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.