Counting Chickens: 12,000 Sq. Ft., 3 1/2 Chickens, Sag Harbor & Some Fresh Eggs

When we last heard from the chicken controversy in Sag Harbor three weeks ago, the Building Inspector had ruled that by his interpretation of the new law, no piece of property smaller than 20,000 square feet should be allowed to house a live chicken. This came as a shock to the Mayor and the Trustees. The law they passed in the spring said you could have up to six chickens per 20,000 square feet. It was their intent that people with properties less than that could have proportionally smaller number of chickens. And people with properties larger than that could have larger number of chickens. So at 40,000 square feet you could have twelve chickens and at 60,000 square feet you could have eighteen chickens. Above that, the new law said “in no event (shall) more than 18 (chickens live) on any parcel.”

This interpretation, refusing to allow any chickens unless there were 20,000 square feet, also came as a shock to resident Mare Dianora, who has a house on Grand Street and had a year ago asked the village if she could raise a few chickens in her backyard, expecting a yes or no answer in a few days. What she got back was that the village had looked through the books and found that there was no law regulating the number of chickens you could have on your property at any one time, so wait a bit and they would write one. Last spring, the new law was passed.

Dianora read the rule with high hopes. She had a house on a lot of 13,000 square feet. She did the math. At 13,000 square feet, she could have three chickens, as she understood it. She applied for three chickens. And the Building Inspector turned her application down. There would be no chickens on property smaller than 20,000 square feet.

Tremors went through this community. In this old whaling town, a majority of the voters live in 18th and 19th century homes, on properties smaller than the 20,000 square foot mark.

Would the village board, in the matter of live chickens, discriminate against the majority of the voters? Granted that many of the voters would prefer not to have chickens, (roosters are prohibited), but everybody loves fresh eggs—and those with chickens would be happy to give fresh eggs to neighbors without chickens. What a disaster!

After this Building Inspector’s disastrous ruling, the five Village Board members went back into emergency session and decided they would not give up on this until they made a still newer law that would replace the old new law and be more in keeping with the desires of the village. Various ideas were hatched. Things were thrown up on the wall to see if they’d stick. At noon a clerk was sent out for egg salad sandwiches. The Village Attorney was called in. Hot food was served for dinner: a variety of omelettes. The Building Inspector was consulted.

Finally, at midnight, they felt they had something to crow about. But then they saw a bad egg in there, so they went back to work. In the morning, just after a rooster would have crowed announcing the new dawn if they had had one, they had the new law.

So here it is: Henceforth, in Sag Harbor Village, one live chicken will be allowed for each 3,500 square feet of property. So for example, if you have a little whaler’s cottage of 1,000 square feet on 1/10th of an acre (4,400 square feet) you could qualify for one and a quarter live chickens, as I understand it. Is that clear?

As for the most live chickens you can have—they are not allowing chicken farms here—the maximum rule still stands. There shall be no more than eighteen chickens on any property regardless of size.

As for Dianora with her 13,000 square feet, she can now apply for permission to have three live chickens. And I say they are going to allow her to have them. Stay tuned.

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