Rejection of Laconia chicken ordinance came as a shock

LACONIA — The Planning Board's rejection of an ordinance which would have permitted the keeping of chickens in residential zones in the city came as a surprise to supporters of the change, many of whom assumed that it since it had been endorsed by the Zoning Board last month that passage was assured.
But the board turned it down by a 6-2 vote Tuesday night following a public hearing at which no one testified on behalf of the proposed ordinance, which has been under discussion for months.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that Planning Board members cited concerns over smell, noise and the disposal of chicken manure in a lengthy discussion before voting down the proposal.
''I'm disappointed that it didn't pass. I wasn't able to go the meeting, so I don't understand why they decided to vote it down. But it's too bad that they did,'' said Karen Barker of Lane Road, one of the founders of the Lakes Region Food Network who has been in the forefront of efforts to ease restrictions on raising chickens.
Barker said that she hopes to renew the push for changing the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance change which would have permitted 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.
Last month the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 to support the proposal, which was prepared by the Zoning Task Force headed by Suzanne Perley, which had studied the proposal since last spring.
Perley said that she was surprised by the Planning Board's vote.
''I expected it would at least get to the City Council (the next step). Now it's dead in the water,'' said Perley, who during the course of studying the proposal spoke with officials in all the other cities in the state that have adopted similar ordinances and found that none had experienced significant problems.
''We got a lot of input on the proposed change,'' said Perley, who said that there appeared to be ''a little confusion over the process,'' and wishes that she had conveyed more of the information the task force had gathered directly to the Planning Board,
She said that as of now the task force has no intention of revisiting the proposed ordinance unless asked to do so by the City Council.
The proposed ordinance, modeled on one adopted by Concord two years ago, would have permitted 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 were 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.
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 zoning task force explained at public hearings held by the ZBA that requiring a special exception to keep chickens would effectively create a register. Applicants would have to 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.
Barker says that she believes that the requirement for a special exception is onerous, requiring too much time and paperwork on behalf of the applicants, and says that she has yet to find a town or city with a similar requirement.