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Sag Harbor’s First “Legal” Chicks Roost

Posted on 30 August 2012

In a white house on Grand Street in Sag Harbor live four little chicks — Chicken Tikka, Papadum, Tita Puente and Louisa. They have started their young lives in the bathtub of the Brondal-Dianora home, but soon will call a dark brown, wooden coop, which will be nestled in the woods between the family’s two workshops, home.

And it only took a year and a half to get them there.

Mare Dianora was first inspired by legislation Brett and Kristin Morgan pursued and were able to get enacted in North Haven Village in 2010 to allow residents the right to keep chickens.

In 2011, the environmentally conscious artist and mother decided she wanted the same opportunity to be available to Sag Harbor residents and that April she approached the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.

Her idea was supported unanimously by the village board.

The original village chicken law was introduced in May and adopted in July of 2011. It stated residents could keep up to six chickens per 20,000 square-feet of lot area, or just shy of a half acre of land. Residents will not be able to have more than 18 chickens on their property, regardless of its size, and the sale of any poultry items, including eggs is prohibited.

Coops sizes and setbacks were are also restricted in the law.

Dianora chose to wait through the fall and winter to pursue her chicken permit and her then two-and-a-half -year-old son, Finny, began dreaming of chickens.

When Dianora finally appeared before the village planning board the following spring — in April 2012 — she was armed with plans showing her coop in a conforming location and a narrative proving she was within the parameters of the law she helped draft by requesting three chickens. The board scheduled a public hearing for the May meeting and it appeared to Dianora her son would have his chickens at the start of the summer season.

However, at that public hearing, village attorney Denise Schoen announced that building inspector Tim Platt had determined the chicken law only applied to those who had properties with a half acre or more, which would restrict the law from most residents in the village, including Dianora.

According to members of the Sag Harbor Village Board, board members and even village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. tried to persuade Platt the intention of the law was not to create such a limitation, but rather to limit the number of chickens in a specific square footage.

Platt was not convinced and the village board had to rewrite its chicken law, meaning two more months would pass before Dianora would even be allowed to go before the planning board for approval.

She earned that approval in late July, and was only then informed she needed Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) approval for her coop. Dianora had missed the deadline for the early August meeting and had to wait until the end of August to be seen.

On Monday, the ARB approved her application, with board member Tom Horn, Sr. noting 20 years ago “everyone had chickens in Sag Harbor” and without a permit.

On Tuesday, Dianora said the lack of clarity in the building department made the process not just lengthy, but nearly impossible to stay on track, noting it felt like “the rules kept being changed on me.”

She added she was grateful to Mayor Brian Gilbride and the village board for their help throughout her process.

“For us, I think of having chickens as a statement that we all need to think about how we utilize our gardens,” said Mare’s husband, Claes Brondal. “It goes back to becoming more sustainable in how you live your life.”

The chickens will provide the family eggs and fertilizer for their ever-expanding garden, said Brondal.

While Dianora was warned about treating chickens like pets in a chicken-rearing class she took in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday afternoon Finny crouched on the ground, attempting to draw the chicks towards him with small coos, highlighting the notion that these are more than just farm animals to this family.

And they certainly are not alone.

On Tuesday night, the Sag Harbor Planning Board heard its second application for the keeping of chickens, this time from Edible Brooklyn and Edible East End publisher, Stephen Munshin and his wife, Lindsay Morris.

However, according to a letter from Platt, the coop at their Wooded Path home is located in the side yard, not the rear yard, as required by the village law and does not meet setback requirements.

If Morris and Munshin cannot put their coop in a conforming location, they will need a variance from the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals to keep their chickens.

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