Ithaca City Resident Amanda Zerilli received a notice of arraignment on pending charges for “Keeping of animals prohibited” and was scheduled to appear in court April 29, 2015. The City of Ithaca does not allow the keeping of chickens, except under specific circumstances.
“Like many of the other ‘illegal’ chicken keepers in Ithaca, we were under the false impression that, if we did everything right, the city would not be enforcing the ridiculous code,” Zerilli wrote in a Facebook post. Zerilli keeps four hens on her double lot on South Hill, which in part borders an industrial property. She says her neighbors have written a letter of support saying that there is no problem with the chickens.
“We believed that we could live the life we believed in, take excellent care of these wonderful creatures, bother no one and be left in peace. This is no longer the case,” says Amanda. She has asked the Mayor for a “stay of enforcement” and says that her interactions with City officials so far have been “very positive.”
Several years ago, local resident Tom Shelley worked on a resolution to have the City code changed. It never passed Common Council. Many unresolved questions surrounded the abandoned chicken resolution, he said. Who would be responsible for the new ordinance? Would the police dept would handle noise and odor complaints? Would the SPCA contract cover chickens and ducks, or would a new, more expensive contract be required to handle stray backyard livestock? Would the Building Department need to see site plans to check setback requirements? Would the Ithaca Fire Department need to check fire code issues, such as egress to accessory structures?
Interest in backyard livestock does not appear to be going away. Last year, Ithaca College student Rob Flaherty created a film, Fowl Play (available on Vimeo), exploring the issue. The topic arose again this spring on the Sustainable Tompkins listserv, where people chimed in showing interest in keeping chickens and goats, others expressed confusion about zoning laws in the City and Town of Ithaca, and still others wondered how more heavily populated cities manage to allow chickens, while the City of Ithaca does not.
Tom suggests that perhaps residents should form an organization to represent the interests of urban farmers and provide a self-monitoring function as well, to troubleshoot problems before they become critical.
Additionally, Cornell Cooperative Extension – Tompkins County already offers some programs on urban agriculture. And, GreenStar Community Projects and the Feeding Our Future Network are in the early stages of creating a county Food Policy Council. Stay tuned for more info.
Image credit: USDA ARS Image Gallery