Despite public opposition to a proposed ban on farm animals on smaller residential lots, the Lysander Town Board voted 3-2 last Thursday to approve such an amendment to the town code. The local law restricts the keeping of farm animals on properties zoned R-10, R-12.5 and R-20. The ban does not apply to larger residential lots or to agricultural zones.
While this amendment to the town code prohibits all farm animals — including livestock such as horses, pigs and cattle — from these smaller residential zones, the discussion largely centered around chickens.
Seneca Estates resident Nicole Enck, whose family owns four chickens, said she received a notice earlier this year from the Seneca Gardens Homeowners Association that stated the family was no longer allowed to keep chickens. Enck said she had researched the HOA rules and the town code and found nothing prohibiting chickens.
At the Aug. 2 town board meeting, Enck charged that the issue arose from a single complaint from the HOA, but Supervisor Joe Saraceni said the problem preceded the Seneca Estates complaint. He said the town board received a complaint several months ago from an Emerick Road resident that his neighbors’ chickens were roaming around the neighborhood and were entering his garage.
Planning Board Chair Jack Corey, who sits on the board of the Seneca Gardens HOA, helped draft the proposed law. Corey told the Post-Standard in June that he suggested the town amend the code as a private citizen and not in his capacity as planning board chair.
Enck and several of her neighbors said the issue never should have reached the town board and should have remained within the HOA.
“If the neighbor came to me and complained, I would have talked to them,” Enck said.
Gail Tosh, an Emerick Road resident who is running for New York State Assembly, said the law limits people’s freedom.
“I’m surprised that as conservatives that you’re passing this law,” she said. “It seems like unnecessary, overreaching legislation.”
Resident Carl Fiorini noted that even the five boroughs of New York City allow residents to raise chickens, albeit with certain regulations.
“Here we are with rural America, wanting to pluck the chickens out of the backyard. It doesn’t make any sense,” Fiorini said.
Former highway superintendent Gene Dinsmore weighed in as well. Dinsmore said he grew up in a farm community and went door-to-door selling fresh eggs from his family’s chickens in his youth. He echoed other residents’ sentiments that this was a neighborhood issue, not a town issue.
“I kind of think that we’re using a shotgun to swat a fly,” he said.
Each town board member offered their reasoning for their votes. Deputy Supervisor Bob Geraci and Councilors Bob Ellis and Roman Diamond voted in favor of the proposal, while Supervisor Joe Saraceni and Councilor Peter Moore cast the dissenting votes.
“To me, the majority of people do not want this to go through,” said Moore. “I think we really have to think twice before we start restricting people’s rights.”
Both Moore and Saraceni said the town could strike a compromise, perhaps by instituting a permitting process for residents on smaller lots who want to own chickens.
“There are ways to work around this besides making a blanket law,” Moore said.
“I don’t think the proposed law is this board’s best effort in addressing chicken issues,” Saraceni said.
Saraceni said the board received calls and letters on both sides of the issue, and he spoke with several residents before making his decision.
“Outside of some very opinionated people in a particular development, not a lot of people are very passionate about preventing people from having chickens,” Saraceni said.
According to Saraceni, real estate agents he spoke with said neighbors with chickens do not make a great impact on home sales.
Geraci begged to differ, saying that the real estate agents he consulted said chickens are detrimental to property values.
The deputy supervisor also noted that the town is moving from a rural community to a more densely populated residential community, like the village of Baldwinsville. He pointed out that the village prohibits farm animals as well.
“Lysander is a community in transition. Lysander was a rural community a generation ago,” Geraci said. “Where we once were almost entirely rural and agricultural, we are no longer that.”
Geraci said keeping backyard farm animals may be common to cultures in Europe and Asia but not in the 21st century United States.
“In 2018, having a chicken in a tight residential community — or a pig or a horse — is not commonly accepted,” he said.
Diamond said people who live in rural areas must accept that livestock and agriculture are facts of life, but people moving into housing developments may expect a more suburban atmosphere.
“I’m concerned that when somebody moves into a residential neighborhood, they could possibly be moving into something that they’re not familiar with,” Diamond said.
Ellis agreed with Geraci and Diamond that dense residential communities are not the place to raise farm animals.
“Lysander has plenty of rural space for that kind of activity,” he said.
The law could be difficult to enforce, Saraceni said, but residents like the Enck family can rest assured that the town is not taking their chickens away. Residents who owned chickens before the law was passed will be grandfathered in and allowed to keep their animals.
Saraceni said residents who are opposed to the ban could continue to lobby against it and encourage the town board to amend or repeal the law.
“We can change laws. We can be flexible. That’s one of the great things about local government,” Saraceni said.
Under Article 78 of New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules, residents also could petition the New York State Supreme Court system to appeal the town board’s action. Petitioners can challenge an agency’s or municipality’s action for a number of reasons, including cases in which the municipality has made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision.
An Article 78 proceeding must be filed within four months of the date of the decision to be appealed.
But according to Lysander Town Attorney Tony Rivizzigno, an Article 78 proceeding would be an uphill battle, as courts side with the municipality the majority of the time.
“The courts very, very, very seldom will upset what a legislature does … unless they did something illegal,” he said. “Most of the time an Article 78 with arbitrariness would be very difficult to prove.”
In a statement to the Messenger, Enck questioned why the town board did not attempt to find a compromise. She suggested the law could have put restrictions on farm animals on small lots, such as “six chickens per half acre of land kept in a contained space that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others or the well being of the animal.”
“I understand their decision but the proposal, the written law itself and the comments made were all upsetting,” Enck wrote. “Lysander has always been a farming community and it states that on the real estate contract when you purchase a home in Lysander. The American farmer is struggling and this is a direct result of people who don’t care. Right now, we are happy with having our little brood and that we are able to keep them.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019