Dunbarton chicken coop opponents come out in force at public hearing
More than 50 people attended a public planning board hearing last night in Dunbarton to voice their concerns about a proposed 27,000-square-foot organic chicken coop on a local farm – and not a single neighbor spoke in favor of building the barn.
Should Tom Giovagnoli, 49, be permitted to build the poultry barn on his 85-acre property, the structure would house 20,000 chickens and be the largest building in Dunbarton. He would run a completely organic operation, he said, and Monroe-based Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has already said it would buy the eggs from his farm.
Giovagnoli and his 19-year-old son, Eric, sat near the front of the crowd in a gym at Dunbarton Elementary School, flanked by representatives from Pete and Gerry’s, an attorney and the engineer who has compiled a site plan of the 85-acre farm.
Together, they laid out poster boards and a PowerPoint presentation for the planning board and residents, hoping to sway them in favor of the coop.
But the experts seemed only to ruffle local feathers more, and neighbors spent most of the nearly three-hour hearing complaining about the barn.
“I will speak for the people here,” abutter Merl Chapman said to the Pete and Gerry’s representatives. “You are not welcome here.”
Engineer Jen McCourt presented her site-review plan to the crowd, trying to assure residents that the 1,200 gallons of water per day the building would need would be manageable and that trees would hide the barn from passers-by and neighbors. Her site plan is available at the town office.
Kevin Phelps, a production manager for Pete and Gerry’s, also delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the crowd with specific details about the layout of the mechanized poultry barn proposed for Giovagnoli’s property, as well as the rigorous inspections the company completes to make sure its products remain organic.
“We want our family farmers to be good neighbors,” Phelps said. “We want our contract farmers to get along with their neighbors.”
He also tried to assure the town that the farm wouldn’t smell because of the concrete-enclosed space to store manure that would eventually be trucked off the property. But many residents didn’t buy it, and odorous manure was one of the main concerns for those who live near Giovagnoli’s property on Twist Hill Road.
Anthony Pinot was one of several attendees who received a round of applause from other opponents after they spoke. He stood with a sheaf of paper in his hand and detailed his own trip to a Pete and Gerry’s farm in Monroe.
“Half a mile from the site the smell was horrifying,” he said. “You people say you didn’t smell anything? You better check again. The smell on a fall, 62-degree day was nauseating and foul.”
Another neighbor questioned Giovagnoli’s plans to someday expand to a free-range operation, meaning his chickens might be allowed outside the stink-proof coop.
“Do you think the chickens are going to hold it when they go outside?” she challenged.
Others raised concerns about a decrease in their property values if 20,000 chickens moved into the neighborhood. There are 122 homes within a half-mile radius of Giovagnoli’s farm, said Tim Terragni, chairman of the board of assessors.
“I promise you the buyers I work with every day, they’re not going to want to come to Dunbarton,” a local real estate agent said.
Two area farmers – one from Bedford and one from New Boston – did speak in favor of Giovagnoli’s operation. Both were interested in buying chicken manure collected from his coop to use as fertilizer.
“Getting chicken manure is gold,” Steve Blais of Bedford said. “As far as getting rid of the manure, he’s not going to have an issue.”
After the hearing, McCourt carried her display boards and their stand from the gym. Tired, she shrugged off negative comments
“I would just like to stress the information we (presented) is based on scientific fact instead of anecdotal feeling,” McCourt said.
She’ll be returning to her plans and adding to her work for another planning board meeting on the proposal in November.
Les Hammond, chairman of the board of selectmen and also a member of the planning board, held his own file of paperwork to review between now and the next meeting.
“All this stuff, this is the first time . . . we’re seeing it,” he said of the presentation. “We’ve got to work with them to tell them what (additional information) we want.”
Hammond said the overwhelmingly negative comments from neighbors and abutters would be a factor for the planning board to consider along with the paperwork and plans submitted by Giovagnoli. He and the other planning board members will need to consider whether the board can find solutions to their complaints.
“Maybe we can take care of it, maybe we can’t,” Hammond said.
Giovagnoli and his son said they would not be discouraged by the negative comments from neighbors.
“I think some of it was expected,” he said after the meeting. “We have to separate the facts from the fear.”
He clustered with his son and the representatives from Pete and Gerry’s in the gym as it emptied, and they tried to bolster each other to keep moving forward.
“We’ve got to keep working on it, keep working on the dream,” Eric Giovagnoli said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)