Resident seeking solution to have chickens

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy City resident Joe D’Amore looks on as he feeds his chickens. D’Amore has had them for over a year, but just recently, he was informed a variance was needed or a law passed in order to have them.

Raising chickens was something city resident Joe D’Amore always wanted to do.

Roughly a year-and-a-half ago, he fulfilled that dream as he built a coop for six chickens near his residence located at the dead end of Mullet Street’s 300 block. Raising them as pets, all was going well until recently.

“I got a letter from the city that to keep them I’d have to pay $150 for a variance,” he said. “So I went to the zoning board, and they didn’t go for it, so they suggested to seek out councilmen.”

Raising chickens and other animals was allowed decades ago. But it’s a different story today as keeping chickens isn’t permitted in an R-2 general residential district. D’Amore went before the city zoning board recently to obtain a variance so he could be allowed to have chickens. The zoning board didn’t render a decision at the time, according to Al Zurawski, city code enforcement officer.

“They decided it should be up to council to allow chickens or not,” Zurawski said as members were discussing a proposed local law Tuesday to allow it.

D’Amore came before City Council during a workshop before the meeting last week to discuss what he had and his desire to keep it. Council members had a resolution before them to schedule an Aug. 6 public hearing on a proposed local law to permit and allow any domesticated chicken hens for personal use in a residential district under terms and conditions after securing a license from the city clerk.

Zurawski acknowledged that the matter regarding D’Amore’s chickens came about over a complaint. D’Amore said he was never aware of a complaint as his neighbors never raised any issue. He also said some of his neighbors didn’t even know he had chickens until they received a letter from the zoning officer.

“I didn’t realize when I was doing this that I was breaking any laws, “ D’Amore said. “I built something that’s nice. A lot of my friends call it the ‘Taj Mahal’ of chicken coops.”While council members had no problem with D’Amore’s setup, they expressed concern over the proposed law and how it would open up raising chickens to other residents who might not take care of their coop like D’Amore.

“If everybody would be the same type of owner like you, that’s one thing. I’d say yes in a moment,” said Third Ward Councilman Shaun Heenan. “But my problem is 30 to 40 other people who might not take the same care.”

There was also question over who would provide enforcement, ensure coops meet code and answer any complaints that might arise.

“To be honest with you I don’t want my officers being chicken police for lack of a better term,” said Police Chief Dave Ortolano.

City Council ended up turning down the resolution for a public hearing. For D’Amore, he’ll likely need to revisit the zoning board to see if members will render a decision for a variance.

As for a law to allow chicken hens in the city, D’Amore says he’s willing to work with the city to set rules and guidelines. Among the cities permitting chickens are New York City, Buffalo and Rochester. The village of Williamsville approved a law to allow them just recently while the town of Amherst has allowed chickens since 2013.

“The worst part is (places in the city) have them already… it’s just in their basements,” he said. “We can take laws from other towns and cities and make them for Dunkirk.”

“They’re really relaxing,” D’Amore continued. “I come out at night and I’ll just sit here and watch them. They’re pets now.”