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Village Board: Not Enough Scratch To Pay For Enforcement

Ruffled feathers flew in chicken skirmishes

After listening to advocates for backyard chickens, including a pediatrician who argued that sensible hand-washing would avoid any health problems after petting or handling chickens, and to upset neighbors worried about their quality of life and property values if the no-chicken ordinance were overturned, the mayor and board of the Village of Great Neck unanimously agreed to keep the law on the books.

Mayor Ralph Kreitzman said, “After hearing about what’s involved in responsible chicken care, we just don’t have enough code enforcement officers to take on chickens. We are having a hard enough time keeping the budget under control. Public safety is our first concern and responsibility.” One by one the other trustees concurred, with Deputy Mayor Mitch Beckerman scolding the Basal family for not “researching enough and getting the chickens without checking the village code.” He also added that another resident who upon being told he had to get rid of his chickens, just set them free. “Now, we have chickens running around loose...that’s not responsible behavior,” Mr. Beckerman asserted.

Passions ran high on both sides.

The debate over backyard chickens is growing in suburban and even city areas as more people attempt to live more organically and eat more locally. The proponents of backyard chickens make no bones about the fact that maintaining a small brood of healthy chickens is a real commitment and requires responsible handling.

But as Carl Santora, who lives in the Town of North Hempstead and keeps two chickens, said, “These are loving pets that give back much more than they receive. Their eggs are healthier and  tastier than factory farmed eggs. Recycling kitchen scraps into their feed saves our landfills  … sand leads to good soil at home by composting... they are an organic pest cleanup crew in your garden by eating ticks, aphids, snails and slugs.”

Jean Pierce got the biggest laugh of the night when she mentioned the effect of pets on one’s disposition. She said, “Trustee Beckerman, when you’re out walking your dog, Ollie, you’re much friendlier.” Then she added, “Instead of whining about chickens, think about other problems we have in our village, like the illegal housing on Steamboat Road.  Chickens don’t throw beer cans on my lawn.” She recounted her experiences in England during the blitz with a next door chicken coop and remembered the first time she was allowed to gather a warm, newly laid egg.

Flora Rubenfield expressed a sentiment heard often during the evening when she said, “This is not a farming community. If you want livestock, go out to Suffolk County.”

One resident expressed her fear that if the chickens were to remain, the owners would apply for farm status and try to be exempt from taxes.

Mitchell Lenchner, the adjoining neighbor to the Basals, stated that the Centers for Disease Control website warns that in order to reduce the risk of salmonella, families should avoid preparing and eating food in the same area where chickens live. He said, “This coop is in close proximity to my patio...this is not a health risk I wish to assume...I have been woken up by the chickens. I do not wish to be woken up by chickens...There’s been an increase in the number of raccoons.” An attorney, he went on to speak about the rule of nuisance laws and declared, “When you weigh the pros and cons...all of this for four eggs?”

Pediatrician Amy Reese thought the health concerns around chickens were overblown. She warned that store-bought eggs, turtles and reptiles are more dangerous for transmitting salmonella, a bacteria, than chickens. (In fact, interstate transport and sale of pet baby turtles were banned in 1975 by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.) She said that parents should teach simple hygiene practices to be used in handling all pets as diseases can be transmitted from dogs and cats too. Further, she added that a woodpecker wakes her up every morning and she wondered how chickens could possibly be as loud as barking dogs and that pesky woodpecker.

Hedy Hadeski was opposed for health reasons citing her concerns about people who have weakened immune systems and how salmonella from chickens living in the neighborhood could harm people, like herself, undergoing chemotherapy.

Ms. Basal, who with her family owns the chickens at  issue, offered that she and her husband have offered to move the coop or make it more soundproofed so that her neighbor would not be bothered by their clucking. She said, “When my kids fight, they make more noise than the chickens.”

Stella and Albert Basal, whose ownership of six chickens started the ruckus, now have the unenviable task of finding another home for the chickens that their children have enjoyed as pets and a source of fresh eggs for the family. They are considering the possibility of trying to get them adopted at the Queens Farm Museum because it is nearby and the children would be able to go to visit them. The village board members were not hard-boiled about when the chickens have to go. They are giving the Basal family time to relocate them.

And so soon, the only hen parties in Great Neck will be at mah jongg games.