WOONSOCKET – The fledgling pro-chicken movement lands at City Hall tonight, but it will have to persuade officials to defy the recommendation of city planners to get the ban on backyard fowl lifted.
The planners have raised questions about the city’s capacity to enforce proposed regulations, up for first passage, that would allow residents to keep up to six chickens.
Planning Board Chairman George Sargent says the board is also concerned about noise, odors and unsanitary conditions that might result from approving the proposal.
“The Planning Board voted that the word ‘chickens’ not be deleted from the definition of farm animals in the Zoning Ordinance due to the lack of information from the public, either for or against the proposal, issues with potential odor and noise problems caused by chickens, issues with the city’s capacity to enforce the proposed regulations and in regard to manure disposal,” he said.
Farm animals are prohibited everywhere in the city under the zoning ordinance. The term also covers pigs, goats and cows.
Alexander Kithes, a 20-year-old Boston University student who lives on Winter Street and the co-founder of Legalize Backyard Chickens in Woonsocket, said he read the letter and thinks it’s unjustified.
Kithes said if the planning board was genuinely interested in soliciting public comment about the ordinance, it didn’t do a very good job of telling anyone.
“Most of the people I’ve talked to are very much in favor of this or they say it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Kithes. “They say the city shouldn’t be bothering people who want to do this on their property.”
Kithes, a 2009 Woonsocket High School salutatorian, was cited for keeping three chickens in a coop at his family’s property on Winter Street, the latest of several would-be chicken-keepers who’ve been ordered to get rid of their birds since last summer. Kithes refused to comply, however, and later made an impassioned plea for reconsideration to members of the council.
Kithes said he began raising chickens for their eggs and tending a vegetable garden at the North End parcel because he believes homegrown, organic foods are healthier and would benefit his sister, who suffers from a chronic digestive disorder. He says most of the arguments made against keeping a few chickens in urban areas, including those raised by city planners, are either overblown or they’re red herrings.
Borrowing a page from similar pro-chicken campaigns in other cities, Kithes launched a Facebook page to promote the Legalize Chickens group and initiated a signature petition drive in favor of ending the ban. He said 130 people have joined the Facebook group and many are expected to attend Monday’s council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Harris Hall.
On the docket is an ordinance introduced by Councilman Marc Dubois in response to Kithes’ lobbying. It would allow residents to keep up to six chickens on their property, provided they comply with certain guidelines. Roosters would be prohibited altogether and coops would be allowed no closer than 25 feet from a dwelling on an abutting parcel.
“Chicken coops must be covered, predator resistant, and well-ventilated,” the ordinance says. “Coops must be kept clean and dry, and all manure must be disposed of in a sanitary manner.”
One city woman known as “the park lady” for her volunteer efforts to keep Cass Park free of litter – Yvette Ayotte – has already stepped forward publicly to offer her services as an unpaid chicken inspector.