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Chickens can flock to the city

Last modified: 12/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
Some officials clucked over the potential for smelly or runaway birds, but the Concord City Council last night voted to let residents keep small flocks of chickens in their backyards.

It's a pilot program for now. The council made the backyard-chickens law a 21-month pilot that should come back to the council for review in September 2013, a motion by Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan that was adopted on a voice vote.

Until last night, Concord only allowed residents to keep chickens if their property was larger than an acre. The amendment to the zoning code passed on a 10-4 vote allows up to five chickens to be raised for eggs and meat at single-family homes in the city, so long as they meet the minimum lot size for their neighborhood.

Only female chickens are allowed, barring roosters or other fowl, such as turkeys. Any slaughtering would have to take place off-site. The eggs or meat are for personal use only, and can't be sold. Manure must be removed or stored in a covered container. And henhouses must be built at least 30 feet back from the property line.

Three residents testified at last night's public hearing, all in support of the proposed urban-chicken law.

"I grew up in New Hampshire, on a small farm in Mason. . . . I have two children," said Stacey Brown, who lives downtown and formally requested the change earlier this year. "I'm tired of having to read labels to make sure there are no hormones or strange chemicals that they will be ingesting."

But several councilors expressed concerns. At-Large Councilor Mark Coen worried how the city would track a chicken back to its owner if it got loose; City Manager Tom Aspell acknowledged it was a potential issue but said most neighbors would probably know who owned chickens in their area.

And Nyhan brooded on potential barnyard odors.

"My personal experience is that chickens do stink," Nyhan said, "and that is one of my primary concerns in listening to public testimony tonight, is the smell."

But Ward 5 Councilor Rob Werner said he didn't foresee many problems.

"I think some of the concerns that have been expressed about the uncleanliness that might occur are really overblown," he said.

At-Large Councilor Michael DelloIacono proposed charging a $25 permit fee to build a coop, citing South Portland, Maine, which passed an urban chickens law in 2007 with such a fee. But his idea was defeated on a voice vote.

The measure passed last night also removed ducks from the city's list of legal household pets.

 Surplus, zoning, Prince Street


In other action last night, the city council voted to sock away most of a $1.34 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30 in various reserve funds.

While city revenues came in $39,000 below projections, officials said the city spent about $1.4 million less than expected in fiscal 2011. The Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee urged the council to appropriate nearly $1.23 million of the surplus, including $600,000 for future road paving, $200,000 for a trust fund covering future retiree costs and $320,000 into vehicle-replacement funds for the Fire and General Services departments.

The committee's recommendation was approved on a voice vote as part of the council's consent agenda.

The $1.34 million surplus came out of a city budget in fiscal 2011 that contained $48.5 million in general fund spending. The city reported a $1.39 million budget surplus in fiscal 2010 and a $724,000 surplus in fiscal 2009.

Also last night, councilors sent a request from Northeast Delta Dental to rezone 1.4 acres off Commercial Street, just north of Horseshoe Pond, back to the planning board for additional review.

Rezoning the land from open-space residential to commercial, the insurer said, would clear the way for it to construct a two-story, 15,000-square-foot office building on the site, across the street from its headquarters at 1 Delta Drive. The new building would hold meeting space and possibly a wellness center, but probably wouldn't go up for two or three years, the company said.

The city's Economic Development Advisory Council and the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce backed the project. But the planning board and the Concord Conservation Commission, which expressed concern about possible environmental damage to nearby Wattanummon's Brook, opposed it.

Richard Uchida, attorney for Delta Dental, told the council last night that the company would take steps to protect the wetlands, including a conservation easement on adjacent land. And, he said, a small commercial building would be a good use of the property, which is now occupied by a single-family home.

After an extended presentation, At-Large Councilor Steve Shurtleff proposed sending the matter back to the planning board for additional review. His motion passed on a voice vote.

The council also voted to hold a public hearing early next year on a plan to demolish the 19th century house at 10 Prince St. and build a two-story office building on the site, with an estimated cost of more than $1.47 million.

The council voted in August to buy the 1880-era home for $175,000. With the state planning to sell its building at 247 Pleasant St. that now houses by the city's Human Services Department, city officials said the welfare office needed a new home.

Assistant for Special Projects Matt Walsh presented a slate of options for the property to the council in November, ranging from renovating and using the existing three-story house to razing it entirely to make a parking lot. Councilors said they wanted more information on how much it would cost to either rehabilitate the historic structure or build a new commercial- or residential-style building on the site.

Renovating the existing building, officials concluded, would cost more than $572,000. Razing it and building a new two-story residential-style building would cost nearly $649,000. A new two-story commercial-style building would cost nearly $1.27 million to build if the second floor were left unfinished, and more than $1.47 million if the second floor were finished.

On a voice vote last night, the council decided to go with that last option, a commercial-style building with two finished floors. A public hearing will be held, likely in February, to appropriate the money.

Last night was the council's last scheduled meeting of the year, and the final meeting for Ward 2 Councilor William Stetson, who decided not to seek a fourth term in last month's election. Jennifer Kretovic will take his seat in January.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com)


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