Judge rules pet chickens in violation of town code
For a group of chickens in Niskayuna, a new home will need to be found as the coop was ruled to be in violation of the town code.
Judge Stephen Swinton Jr. ruled on Monday, Jan. 3, in Niskayuna Town Court that John Helm was violating sections 220-4 and 220-10D of the town code and fined Helm $20 dollars for every day since the notice was issued in early June, which totals almost $4,000. Swinton said if the chickens were removed from the property within 72 hours he would entertain a motion to reduce the fine. The Court could’ve fined Helm $500 for every day the chickens were on the property.
As long as I have been here, I have not come across this, said Town Attorney Peter Scagnelli, who said the town has employed him for 10 years. `There have been other people that have chickens on property and code enforcement said you could not do this and it was resolved before court action.`
John Helm said he wasn’t pleased with the outcome of the case, but he complied with the judge’s decision and removed the chickens from the property on Tuesday, Jan. 4. The chickens were brought to Quarter-Acre Rescue Ranch in Johnsonville as the legal battle continues.
`We are extremely disappointed. I feel that it is no longer a case of chickens,` said Helm. `It was a pretty sad moment and we are planning on an appeal.`
Section 220-4 of Niskayuna’s Town Code, which Helm was found to be in violation, is definitions. The town defines farm as `Any lot containing at least one acre which is used for gain in the production or raising of agricultural products, livestock, poultry and dairy products. It includes necessary farm structures within the prescribed limits and the storage of equipment used.`
Helm previously stressed that the chickens were not used `for gain` and all the eggs produced were either kept by the family or given away to friends and residents for free.
The judge didn’t with Helm’s interpretation of what `for gain` means, which was a strong point in their case against the court.
In Swinton’s decision he wrote, `Defendant’s reliance on the ‘for gain’ aspect of the definition is misplaced and irrelevant. Gain is not limited to financial gain. If it were, by Defendant’s logic, Defendant would be permitted to raise dozens of horses on his property, as long as the venture was not profitable.`
Helm said they basically lost the case based on the judge’s interpretation of the definition.
`His interpretation was relevant and mine was irrelevant,` said Helm. `If you are on a regular farm where they are just there for production, they are scared of people and they squawk and they run the judge can say whatever he wants, but we say they are pets.`
Helm said neighborhood children come and visit their chickens and always have enjoyed the experience without any problems.
Since the Helm’s live on an R-3 High-Density Residential District, a farm is not allowed and would require a special use permit. He previously said the family tried to work with the town on figuring out a solution, but the town was uncooperative and didn’t help them understand what solutions or avenues were available to them
`They would have to go to the zoning board of appeals and press their case their and that would be a use variance and not an area variance, which is a harder standard to get,` said Scagnelli.
Although, in the judge’s decision, Helm is denied the right to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals is now denied.
Helm has testified the chickens are pets and the town has said they are farm animals, but the judge said in his decision that the keeping of chickens as pets or farm animals in the R-3 zoning is not permitted.
`My wife was in bed crying the whole time I got choked up watching her ball her eyes out,` said Helm. `They are pets, I don’t know how to stress that enough.“
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