Laconia 'chicken ordinance' takes important step forward

LACONIA — With one dissenting vote, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) this week endorsed an ordinance that would permit residents in most parts of the city to keep chickens. It remains for the proposal to be approved by both the Planning Board and City Council.

The ordinance, which was prepared by the Zoning Task Force, would 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 ZBA and carrying a fee of $125, 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.

The proposed ordinance 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.

Tom Barker, who with his wife Karen keeps chickens at their home on Lane Road, was among several residents to again challenge the requirement of a special exception and accompanying fee, which they said raised an unnecessary financial barrier.

However, Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that the Zoning Task Force chose to require a special exception in order to ensure that those electing to keep chickens were aware of the conditions for doing so and that her department would know where chickens were being kept should enforcement action be necessary. The fee, she explained, is required of all applications for special exceptions, not only those to keep chickens, and is intended to defray the cost of reviewing applications and enforcing ordinances.

The Planning Board is scheduled to address the proposed ordinance on November, when another public hearing will be held.