AMHERST — The ownership of chickens — a problem that has been debated Amherst since last summer — may have a simpler solution than City Council members originally thought.
At a meeting Monday, Amherst law director Tony Pecora summarized his research regarding a citywide ordinance that prohibits farming on fewer than five acres of land. For months, the city considered owning chickens to fall under the category of “farming,” but that definition doesn’t necessarily apply in this case, Pecora said.
“We can’t use one part of an ordinance and not others,” Pecora said, adding that another city ordinance defines farming as animal husbandry as well as horticulture and floriculture. If the city was to prohibit chicken ownership because it’s considered “farming,” then officials also would need to prohibit residents from growing gardens of flowers and vegetables on fewer than five acres of land, Pecora said.
During the hour-long discussion that followed, Pecora suggested that while the definition of farming should stay, it shouldn’t apply to single-family dwellings.
However, there is an ordinance that the city can use to regulate chicken ownership in single-family residential areas, Pecora said. Ordinance 505.13 lets people own and raise up to four chickens on any amount of land, allowing residents who aren’t farmers to own small groups of chickens.
The council voted to table the issue until July 1, allowing Pecora to do more research. At that time, Council plans to discuss changes to the ordinance regarding farming.
“It’s obvious that we need to update all of this,” Councilwoman Jennifer Wasilk said.
The discussion marks the latest in an ongoing series of meetings to address the issue. The city started enforcing the farming ordinance over the summer and prohibited residents from owning chickens on small plots of land, causing many residents to fight the ordinance.
Pecora said ordinance 505.13 means residents can continue to own small groups of chickens, as long as they keep their yards clean.
“It really reframes the whole issue for me,” Councilmember Phil Van Treuren said of the newly discovered law.