Siena College professor and Niskayuna resident support effort
There seems to be more than one resident interested in keeping chickens on their property in Niskayuna.
John and Brenda Helm, the couple involved with efforts to allow them to keep chickens on their property, on Friday, Feb. 18, held an informational and planning meeting at Niskayuna Town Hall on the R3 Residential Zoning Districts micro-farming initiative they’ve started recently. John Helm said the meeting was to address any questions or concerns people had about the plan and to gather together supporters of the initiative. While by the end of the meeting there was about a dozen people present, John Helm still viewed the meeting as positive since he was able to reach out to new members in the community.
Ideally we would never have to go through to the extent of actually having the town code changed it is a very long drawn out process, said Brenda Helm at the start of the meeting. `Ideally what we would like is for them to tighten up what is already there to allow the rights that we currently enjoy and to protect those.`
Brenda Helm recently drafted proposed changes to the town code to allow chickens in the high-density residential zoning. John Helm is currently appealing a Town Court decision ruling the couple was in violation of the town code. Although the Court recently reduced the fine to $380, according to John Helm, he is still going to be appealing the decision since he believes he was not in violation of the town code.
Due to the pending litigation Town Supervisor Joe Landry said the effort to create the micro-farming town code amendment wouldn’t be addressed by the town until a decision is reached through Helm’s appeal. The Helms have previously stated they view their micro-farming initiative separate from their pending litigation and want to address them as separate matters.
`We are in the middle of litigation with them, so until the litigation is done we are not going to proceed,` said Landry on Tuesday, Feb. 22., about the proposed changes. `I am probably going to get out to them a letter in a day or so that we are going to wait till the litigation is finished till we make any decision.`
John Helms expressed his hope to obtain 1,500 signatures by the end of June to show the town officials that residents support the micro-farming initiative. Helm also said he doesn’t want to just merely garner a bunch of signatures in passing but hopes to educate residents on their goals.
Melissa MacKinnon, a Niskayuna resident, said she had been planning to get chickens with her younger daughter, but now those plans aren’t going to be accomplished.
`I said ‘Look, look, they have chickens. You must be able to have chickens in Niskayuna,’` said MacKinnon during the meeting. `We have been talking about this since last summer and then I started reading in the paper [that chickens aren’t allowed] and I thought ‘Oh, you must me kidding me.’`
Another supporter of the movement, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, was Andrea Worthington, a biology professor at Siena College and Niskayuna resident. After reading an article in
she said she contacted the Helms to reach out and offer support.
`Part of my support for them is I had chickens in my backyard for a year and half,` said Worthington. `I had been given these chickens from a Siena student that asked me to take care of them.`
While she no longer has the chickens, she said she kept them in her basement and would bring them outside in a moveable pen to eat insects and grub around her garden.
`When I saw what the Helms had suffered for having chickens I realized, ‘Oh my god, that could have been my fate,` said Worthington. `I wasn’t farming, I was just enjoying them like one would enjoy rabbits.`
She said all of her Niskayuna neighbors knew about the chickens on her property, but they actually enjoyed the fowl company. Similar to the Helms, people would come over to visit her chickens.
`We were keeping them under control and I told all my neighbors about it and all my neighbors were happy about it,` she said. `My neighbors were tickled pink that there were chickens in the neighborhood.`
Having chickens for personal use as pets or to produce food for one’s family is a right she feels residents have.
`This kind of backyard gardening, if you will, it is a right people have to feed themselves with things they grow whether it is tomatoes or whatever,` said Worthington.
While she did understand where the town was coming from in ruling the chickens were a violation, she feels irked.
`I’ve worked with the town and I sort of understand where they are coming from but it seems like it is so inflexible,` said Worthington. `I do know that I think it is very important to be a citizen and to take laws that you would like to se changed or added and bring them to local government. I saw that happen with the tree committee and replacing trees in Niskayuna. A town and its rules are a living thing.“