Proposed fee of $125 to keep chickens in Laconia challenged as too expensive

LACONIA — Potential chicken owners will have to wait at least a month before the Zoning Board of Adjustment decides whether or not to pass on to the City Council for approval a zoning amendment that would allow the birds to be kept in areas of the city where they are currently prohibited.

After holding its first public hearing in City Hall last night, the ZBA asked Planning Director Shanna Saunders to include language in the proposed chicken ordinance that address regulations about keeping chickens in so-called cluster developments.

The next public hearing is scheduled for October 21.

Karen and Tom Barker were the only city residents who attended last night's hearing.

Karen Barker said the primary concern with the ordinance as written is the proposed $125 fee for a special exception to the zoning ordinance for all wannabe chicken owners.

Calling $125 a "burdensome charge," Barker said she thinks dogs are more annoying to neighbors than chickens and it's only $7 annually to register a dog.

Barker said she agrees with the ZBA that the town should know where the chickens are and if the coops satisfy setback requirements and shoreline protection provisions, but she said the fee could be too much.

"One-hundred twenty-five dollars could signify someone who could afford to keep chickens," said Saunders, defending the proposed application fee, adding that the Zoning Task Force spoke extensively about the affordability of keeping chickens.

ZBA member Kate Geraci noted it would take a lot of eggs to compensate for a $125 special exemption fee. The board discussed a fee-waiver process and Saunders said she would look into it and report back.

Member Suzanne Perley said the $125 fee comes as part of the application for all special exemptions that go before the ZBA and anyone who wants to keep chickens will need a special exemption.

If the zoning amendment passes, people who live in residential single-family (RS) areas, residential general areas (RG), and shorefront residential areas (SFR) can keep chickens. The current ordinance essentially restricts them from the most densely populated parts of the city.

Saunders said she has seen a number of special exception requests for chickens come before the ZBA and the board decided to look at an amended ordinance before granting any special exceptions. Right now, chickens are included in the agriculture zoning ordinances but Saunders said, for now, only chickens are being discussed.

Should the ordinance pass the ZBA, which Saunders said is the operative board because it's the one that has fielded all the chicken requests, it would need to be approved by the City Council.

When asked if the Planning Board also has to review and approve the ordinance should it be approved by the ZBA, Saunders said the city is seeking a legal opinion about the Planning Board's role.

As written, the amended ordinance says a lot in a residential area is limited to five chickens — no roosters — and the coop must be at least 20 feet from the property line and 10 feet from the primary residence.

People who own chickens may not sell their eggs or chickens but can give them away. No slaughtering in the city would be allowed.

Chickens may not be kept in front yards and all chickens shall be kept in appropriate coops high enough to prevent the chickens from flying away. The coops must also be constructed so that wild animals can't get in and the chickens are protected from the elements.

Feed must be kept secure and no more than three cubic yards of chicken manure can be kept on the property.