On Wednesday, Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee decided to make what has been dubbed “the chicken ordinance” a low priority proposal, judging that such a plan would take too long to hatch. Though the committee concluded that they would not formally move forward with the proposal, they maintained that they would accept and consider recommendations from citizens. If it had passed, the proposal would have lifted the current ban on maintaining live chickens in households.
A memorandum produced by City Attorney Daniel Hoffman ’72 law ’93 supported the proposal, stating that a lift on the ban could encourage people to produce their “own food to save money” and foster “sustainable ... organic food movements.”
The memorandum added that a number of cities, including Freeville, Binghamton and New York City, have already repealed their respective laws outlawing chicken rearing.
Yet, the memorandum ultimately failed to sway council members, who — feeling the yoke of both time and resources — decided the committee did not have the wherewithal to add it to their priorities list, despite the fact that none of them really opposed the proposal.
Feathers were ruffled at the meeting, as Svante Myrick (D-4th Ward) and Daniel Cogan (D-5th Ward) sought more forcefully to move the proposal forward.
Myrick said that “although there’s something inherently funny about it,” that “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it.”
Ellen McCollister (D-3rd Ward) disagreed.
“[The proposal is] fun, amusing, interesting … [but] would I put it as our highest priority? No. Not at a time of dwindling, money and staff time,” she said.
McCollister also expressed worries that the “enforcement and inspection” of legalized backyard chickens would hinder a “poor building department” with “already [stressed] resources.”
“Invariably … somebody is not going to be following the laws,” McCollister said, predicting a “big community brouhaha.”
Eric Rosario (I-2nd Ward) agreed, saying that the process “might seem straightforward,” but could take a long-time to implement with an already bogged-down council.
Cogan, however, would not back down, citing the ease of maintaining chickens.
“Chickens make clucking sounds and go to the bathroom,” Cogan said. “Maybe I’m naïve … [but this] seems like an easy lift.”
The “city chicken” movement is at the “center of the Brave New World of urban ag[riculture],” according to a New York Times article detailing the new “trend.”
There even exists a growing multitude of blogs devoted to the movement, including the “Urban Chickens blog,” “Plainy Old Chickens,” and the “Daily Coop.”
Committee Chair Jennifer Dotson (I-1st Ward) called the effort a “microcosm of [the] farmer’s market” and said that it could “set us up really well for recessions.”
Dotson added that the effort would create “food security in a lot of ways.”
“Let’s say lose your job … if you have a backyard garden, all of a sudden you have food you can grow,” Dotson said.
Right now, municipal ordinances outlaw keeping chickens except for, among a few other things, “… educational purposes.”
Dotson dismissed the current regulation as outdated, explaining how chickens were outlawed as part of a regulation of urban livestock dating back “longer than anyone on the council can remember.”
Local residents expressed support for the proposed change.
Ithacan Renee Dawn said she was “so excited” for chickens to return to the city.
Rick Robbins, who owns the cafe above Autumn Leaves Bookstore, agreed.
“[I] never understood why we would have a law against it ... it’s a bird,” he said.