ITHACA, N.Y. — Any chicken dissenters must have flown the coop before Ithaca’s Town Board meeting Monday night, as the Town unanimously voted to legalize ownership of up to six hens in medium density residential zones.
The local law comes about two months after a similar ruling by the city of Ithaca that created a two-year pilot program allowing 20 city residences to own up to four hens, with stipulations.
The new town law requires that hens — roosters remain banned — be kept in a back yard at least 20 feet from any adjacent property. It also says coops must be cleaned regularly “so as to prevent offensive odors.”
The hens must remain on the property and chicken feed must be kept in rodent-proof containers, according to the law. Medium density residential zones are those that “are almost exclusively residential in nature.”
Before ruling on chickens, the Board unanimously determined that no significant, adverse environmental change would result from changing the law, although it did note in a report that legalizing chicken ownership “may result in an increase in noise, odors, or outdoor lighting.”
Rich DePaolo, chair of the Planning Committee, appeared most wary of the plan. He ultimately voted in favor, but questioned how to deal with potentially ambiguous odor and noise violations.
“If somebody’s having a party and it’s too loud, you ask them to turn it down and they turn it down,” DePaolo said. He asked what the Town would do if the odor or noise of a residents’ chickens became too much to handle, and how a code officer would determine if a neighbor’s complaint was reasonable.
“It’s not like we can go out there with an odor meter,” he said.
Bruce Bates, the director of code enforcement, noted that the law requires coops to be kept clean, but acknowledged that enforcing the code would at times be a judgement call.
“I don’t anticipate there to be a lot of problems,” he added.
Bates said passing the local law will allow the Town to make sure chickens are kept in a humane, clean manner, adding that he knows several people who currently own chickens and may need to change their practices.
Town of Ithaca resident Jane Marie Law said she and other advocates of backyard chickens have been working with Cornell veterinarians, nutrition specialists, local architects and experts from Agway.
“Ithaca will not be an embarrassment … but a model” for other municipalities on the edge of adopting backyard chickens, she said.