For 10-year-old Liam Sullivan, his seven hens might as well be furry puppies or kittens.
They have names, personalities – and Liam's undying affection.
The West Seneca Zoning Board of Appeals will decide tonight whether that's allowed to continue.
On Liam's behalf, his father, Dennis, petitioned the Zoning Board for a permit to allow his son to keep the Rhode Island red hens at the family's Orchard Park Road property. In December, the Zoning Board granted a six-month variance for raising seven chickens, with a review to take place this month.
It's against West Seneca's town code to raise poultry.
Dennis Sullivan strikes an apologetic tone about the issue. He said Liam, a student at West Seneca West Elementary School, brought 13 of the animals home – seven hens and six roosters – after a class project about two years ago. Following one neighbor's complaint last year about noisy roosters, the Sullivans appealed to the Zoning Board.
"I didn't realize the scope of the situation. I'm sorry I had to bring [the permit request] to the table. ... At that time, I was just trying to defend my son," Sullivan said. "It will pull my son's heart out [if he loses the rest of his chickens]. It's like a dog or a cat – they get attached to it."
The Zoning Board's December variance permitted the Sullivans to raise seven hens if all six roosters were removed. A provision was added requiring a review after six months. Officials said the town wanted some time to evaluate neighbor complaints and make sure the Sullivan property was being kept up.
Land owners immediately adjacent to the one-acre Sullivan property told the Zoning Board they "had no problem" with the family's chickens, according to the minutes of the December Zoning Board meeting.
At that time, Sullivan told the board the chickens were being housed in a trailer with plans to create "permanent housing" in cages. Sullivan said the chickens now are kept in cages.
John Gullo, the town's code enforcement officer, expects the board to grant a permanent permit for the Sullivans to keep the seven hens at tonight's meeting.
"They wanted to have him come back to make sure the neighbors weren't complaining," said Gullo, explaining that his office has not fielded any neighbor complaints in the intervening time.
Gullo added that he will recommend to the board again tonight that Sullivan "get his yard cleaned" in advance of obtaining a permit to permanently keep the chickens. There are abandoned vehicles, a trailer and other materials in the backyard of his property that town officials want cleaned up.
Meanwhile, requests to keep poultry in West Seneca are becoming increasingly common, and town officials are eyeing changes to the town's code to accommodate such requests. The town now addresses residents' requests individually.
"We're considering it on a case-by-case basis until we come up with a long-term solution. We don't have an ordinance yet in place," said Evelyn Hicks, a Zoning Board member who said the town has been approached three times in the past year by residents seeking to keep chickens.
[JUMP] "On a provisional basis, we're allowing people to have a limited number of chickens on residential property," Hicks added.
Sullivan said he was surprised to learn chickens were prohibited in West Seneca after reading that Buffalo is permitting residents to keep them in the city.
"If Buffalo was allowing for chickens, I thought, ‘Well, we're in the suburbs, we shouldn't have any problem,'?" said Sullivan, who favors reconfiguring the code to allow them. "It would be nice if there was a plan. They're beautiful animals."
Sullivan said the chickens Liam keeps are raised as pets. Liam feeds and cares for them. The family gives many of the brown eggs provided by the hens to neighbors.
"We have had a wonderful time," Sullivan said. "There was not a better bond between father and son than our time with the chickens."
The zoning board will meet at 7 tonight at West Seneca Town Hall, 1250 Union Road.