Zoning Task Force says 'yes' to keeping chickens

LACONIA — The Zoning Task Force yesterday agreed to recommend amending the zoning ordinance to permit the keeping of chickens in the residential single-family (RS), residential general (RG) and shorefront residential (SFR) districts. A "special exception" to the ordinance, granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), would be required.

The current ordinance restricts the keeping of livestock, including poultry, to four districts — the commercial resort (CR), airport industrial (AI) and rural residential I and II (RRI, RRII) districts — effectively excluding chickens from the most densely populated parts of the city.

While extending the keeping of chickens to three districts, the committee suggests striking the airport industrial district from the list where it is permitted.

The proposal will be referred to the ZBA. After conducting a public hearing, the ZBA will make its recommendation to the City Council, which is vested with the ultimate authority to adopt and amend municipal ordinances.

The proposal recommended by the committee closely mirrors the ordinance adopted by the Concord City Council in December, 2011, which will be reviewed in September. It would permit keeping not more than five hens — but no roosters, capons or guinea hens — for the sole use of the household in the specified districts by special exception.

The breeding of chickens and sale of eggs would be prohibited. Nor could chickens be slaughtered on the premisses. Chickens would be kept in coops placed in rear or side yards at least 10 feet from the primary residence and 20 feet from any lot line. Chickens would not be allowed to roam free. Not more than three cubic feet of droppings, stored in a closed container, could be kept at one time. Chicken coops could not be located and chicken manure could not be stored within the 50 feet of the Shoreland Protection Overlay District, which includes all land within 250 feet of the high water mark of public waters, or within any wetland or wetland buffer.

Suzanne Perley, who chairs the task force, said that she spoke with officials in all the other cities in the state that have adopted similar ordinances and found that none had experienced significant problems.
Last month, when the task force held a public hearing on the issue, several speakers suggested residents keeping chicken should be required to register them.

Perley explained that requiring a special exception to keep chickens would effectively create a register. Applicants must pay a $125 fee and demonstrate that that the use meets eight criteria, including that keeping chickens will not impair the interests or character of the neighborhood. Perley said that the process will ensure that the city has a record of those with chickens and their whereabouts.

Chickens first drew the attention of the Planning Department in October 2005 when Karianne Shelley, then an aspiring veterinarian at age 15, requested a variance to keep two hens at her home on Old North Main Street in order to complete a 4-H project. The ZBA denied the variance, but when Shelley appealed voted three-to-two to grant the variance until she graduated from high school in two years time. Five years later Charles Drake applied for a variance to keep between four and six laying hens at his home on Bay Street. The ZBA denied his request and refused to reconsider its decision.

Perley said that the task force also recommended adopting an amendment to the section of the ordinance bearing on the floodplain district, which was proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "We really have no leeway," she said. "We have to update the ordinance in order for properties to be eligible for flood insurance." The amendment to the floodplain ordinance, Perley said, will be recommended to the Planning Board, which in turn will present its recommendation to the City Council.