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Feathers ruffled as Council upholds ban on chickens

April 2, 2013

George and Louise Beauchemin show their support. Photo by Joseph B. Nadeau
WOONSOCKET – A proposed ordinance legalizing the keeping of chickens for food purposes on city properties gained plenty of support from the large crowd in Harris Hall Monday night but not enough to convince a majority of the members on the City Council to support it.
The panel voted 5 to 2 against the chicken licensing bid with only Councilman Marc Dubois, the measure’s sponsor, and City Council President John F. Ward casting votes of support.
Councilmen Christopher Beauchamp, Daniel Gendron, Robert Moreau, Roger Jalette and Albert G. Brien all decided against allowing city residents to keep chickens under a city-regulated process even though some commended Alex Kithes, a local college student campaigning for the change in city regulations, for his commitment to his cause.
Others such as Beauchamp said he respected the Kithes family for their passion for what they were seeking but questioned whether a neighbor who had stood to voice opposition at past meetings on the topic had also been given fair treatment. The opponent likely did not attend last night’s meeting because of the large crowd of supporters that were present.
“If a neighbor can’t express her concerns that’s not right,” he said.
Beauchamp questioned whether the proposed ordinance could be enforced once it was on the books, a position Councilman Roger Jalette also cited for his opposition to the change to a fowl ban that has been on the books since the 1990s.
Moreau pointed to the argument raised by one of the proponents addressing the council that “good people” were being penalized with the ban over concerns for what “bad people” might do. “Unfortunately that is the problem that we have here in the city, people don’t live up to the letter of the law,” Moreau said.
Gendron said he had initially wished to work with the chicken raising advocates to work out something that might be acceptable to all the parties involved, but in the end decided that a better way might be for a request to keep chickens to be considered as an application for zoning variance for a property. That way, he offered, a hearing would be held on each request where neighbors could come forward in that setting to express their views one way or another.
“But I am unable to support this ordinance because it opens up the city too much,” Gendron said.
Brien took the younger Kithes to task for an earlier statement that it was not his neighbor’s business what he did on his property. “It is her business,” Brien said of the neighbor’s right to speak out. “She is entitled to express her concerns,” Brien said while promising to fight for any resident's right to do that, be it Kithes or someone with an opposing viewpoint.
Brien conceded that Kithes had set out on a “noble cause” by with his support for home grown food but maintained that from the “point of view of property value and zoning, I can’t support this.”
Jalette told Kithes he believed the young city resident to be sincere in his efforts to win passage of the ordinance submitted by Dubois, but also suggested “you are not looking at reality.”
People are told they must have their cars off the street when two inches snow falls on the city, and yet every such storm the police department is confronted with the cars left on the street despite the ordinance, he said.
Dubois had pointed to the fact that 28 of the state’s 39 city’s and towns allow the keeping of chickens as proof the group’s request was not unfounded. He also said he had spoken to members of the city’s animal control division who indicated they have received very few complaints about chickens in the city and did not expect enforcement of the ordinance would be a problem.
When it appeared the measure would not be approved, Dubois also attempted to soften the blow for the proponents, offering “the future looks bright if it is going to be in the hands of our young people.”
George Beauchemin, a resident of Mendon Road who keeps 12 chickens in his backyard, said he was disappointed by the Council’s decision as he left the meeting.
He has never had a problem with his neighbors and yet now he may have to get rid of his chickens, Beauchemin said. “The only thing we can do is take action at the next election,” he said. “What else can we do?” he asked.
Kithes, who had again given the council a lengthy and colorful speech on the merits of homegrown food and the growing movement to keep chickens as part of that campaign, was clearly dismayed by the vote as he stood with a group of family members and friends on Main Street.
“If they didn’t want to spend any more time considering this, they took the wrong vote tonight,” he said. “I will be back at every council meeting over the summer to continue to fight for this,” he said.

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