By ALISSA SCOTT
Should the people of Amsterdam be allowed to run a-fowl with the law?
That question is being considered by the Common Council, which has been asked to let city residents keep chickens as pets.
Kasey Efaw of Highland Road approached the aldermen Tuesday night and asked that they make it legal for him to keep four hens in his back yard.
"I don't want you to just think, 'I live in a residential area and you're just a long-bearded hippie trying to start a farm on your property,'" Efaw said during his proposal. He said keeping chickens has legitimate benefits to the city and his family.
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said she spoke with the codes department and it strongly advises against the change.
The current ordinance, under "Fowl Control" in the city charter, says no person shall keep, maintain or possess any fowl including: chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and other poultry or domestic birds commonly used for food purposes. Pigeons are acceptable, however.
"This wouldn't be groundbreaking," Efaw said, noting he's done research on several outlying municipalities like Troy, Gloversville, Saratoga Springs and Schenectady that have variations of such an ordinance. "We wouldn't be laughed at for keeping chickens."
Hatzenbuhler said the codes department is against changing the current local law based on the number of complaints it gets each day about chickens, roosters and goats. It actually asked the council to add pigeons to the list and said the only reason they were left off is because 50 years ago, there was a homing pigeons club in the city.
"Before anyone makes their final decision, we should listen to this gentleman here," 1st Ward Alderman Edward Russo said.
Efaw said he doesn't want to deviate too much from the current law and passed out a "layman's version" of a possible ordinance amendment.
"I'm suggesting that no more than four hens shall be allowed for each single-family dwelling," Efaw said. "No hens shall be allowed in multi-family complexes, including duplexes."
In fact, if one doesn't have 25 feet of perimeter around their property, chickens should not be allowed. Like the dog ordinance, which says a person shouldn't be able to hear another person's dog bark from 25 feet away, a chicken's cluck "should not and would not" be heard from that distance.
"Basically, substitute chicken for dog and chicken coop for dog house," Efaw said.
Also because of the noise, Efaw said roosters should not be allowed. Their cock-a-doodle, he said, is much louder and keeping a rooster has fewer benefits because they do not produce eggs.
There will be no slaughtering of hens outside, he said.
Efaw also suggested no person shall allow hens to run at large within the city limits and people must have coops and fences for them. Perhaps, he said, the codes department could charge a fee to inspect the coop to make sure it's up to standards.
That coop, Efaw said, must be in the back yard and housing, food and accessories must be kept in a "neat, secure and sanitary" condition at all times.
"Odor from hens, manure or other related substances shall not be perceptible at the property boundaries," Efaw said.
Finally, in order to keep chickens, a resident must obtain a permit and pay a $10 fee -- "or raise it, I'm not sure" -- to the city, he said.
Hatzenbuhler said she knows people are already keeping chickens in the city and this might increase that number.
"Yes," Mayor Ann Thane said. "But those are illegal."
Efaw also dispelled several myths he said people of Amsterdam might believe. He said chickens don't smell, they aren't noisy, and they don't regularly carry diseases.
"I have two kids myself and I want to teach them about where food comes from and how to care for an animal," Efaw said.
Beside keeping the chicken's eggs, he also suggested teaching other children at the Creative Connections Art Center about them and using the chicken waste at the community garden. He said he'd like to work with the Cornell Cooperative Extension program, too.
Russo said he will look into it and maybe follow a suggestion Efaw had about taking 20 city residents and allowing them to keep chickens on a trial basis for a year.
An ordinance change would require a public hearing, so city residents would get a chance to share their input.