At the request of a fourth-grader, Concord chicken ordinance back on the table

  • Francesca Brown on Wednesday holds a photo of when she was two years old hugging her chickens in front of the barn where she hopes she can have chickens again. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/20/2019 6:09:27 PM

Francesca Brown’s five hens – Clucks Skywalker, Goldy, Blacky, Feathery Foot and Henny Penny – were her special pets.

Four-year-old Francesca, called “Fran,” liked to carry the chickens in her arms; she talked to the hens when they greeted her animatedly in their coop; she rocked them in her lap.

One was a Rhode Island red, others were golden-feathered Buff Orpingtons and iridescent, black-feathered Cochin Ameraucanas, which laid green eggs that Fran collected with her mother, Stacey, every morning.

Fran’s family loved having chickens: Their waste could be used for fertilizer in the family garden, they ate bugs and food scraps that otherwise would have been thrown away and the flock produced at least three eggs a day.

The chickens lived in a potting shed attached to her house on Garden Street in Concord – just up the road from city hall. The shed had a hatch that led to a ramp and a small outdoor enclosure.

But in 2014, a city code officer told the Browns they had to give their chickens away.

The family was violating Concord’s backyard chicken ordinance, which requires that chicken coops on lots one acre or smaller are located 30 feet from neighbors’ property. The Browns’ chickens were 19 feet from two neighbors; as for their third neighbor, the coop was located right next to their property line.

Backyard chicken ordinances have become more common in cities and towns as interest in raising small flocks at home is steadily increasing. Municipalities have had to find ways to regulate chickens, and officials have faced the challenge of balance – encouraging sustainability while also honoring neighbors’ privacy rights.

The parameters for people who live on small lots vary. In Manchester, people can have six chickens per half-acre of land, with a minimum of a 20-foot buffer between property lines. In Nashua, people are allowed to have chickens if they have a minimum of 10 square feet of space each. Lebanon, unlike other cities, requires a zoning permit for keeping hens, and allows up to two chickens per acre.

Now, an ordinance has come before the Concord City Council to change the buffer space from 30 feet to 5 feet.

Fran, now a fourth-grader Christa McAuliffe, never lost her interest in chickens, and she wants to have them at her house again. She wrote the city a letter over the summer asking officials to rethink the ordinance and spoke at planning board and city council meetings.

But several of the Browns’ neighbors have opposed the ordinance change, saying 5 feet is just too close.

“Five feet just feels like not having a buffer at all,” said the Browns’ neighbor, Gina Brochu. “We don’t want to be unreasonable neighbors, we don’t want to cause trouble. But it comes down to this: Chickens belong on farms, not in cities.”

The proposal, with the 5-foot buffer, had previously been passed by the planning board, 5-2.

But ultimately, at the most recent city council meeting on Oct. 15, the council voted to send it back to the public safety advisory committee for more work.

History

Concord first created its backyard chicken ordinance in 2011. At-large councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, who pioneered the initiative, said she believed it was an important step forward in the city’s commitment to sustainability.

Dr. Vanessa Grunkemeyer, a faculty supervisor of the UNH Poultry Experiential Education Program (PEEP), said she’s seen more interest in recent years in raising small flocks, even in city settings.

“More and more people are figuring out that keeping chickens is a great way to get connected with your food. We are seeing an increasing trend and have been in the last 10 years or so, mostly since the recession,” she said.

There is no way to track the number of people living on small lots who have backyard chickens in Concord, because no permitting process is required in the city.

According to Concord’s code enforcement department, the city has responded to 20 complaints about chickens in the last five years, six of them in the last year.

Because much of Concord is built very close together, it’s hard for many people to have chickens under the current ordinance.

That should change, Brown said.

“We realize that the traditional perspective is that they belong in farms and not in cities,” she told the city council on Oct. 15. “Cities have a lot of cars, people, businesses. People purchase their food in stores, even restaurants. Garbage trucks collect trash. But that’s not the vision described in Concord’s master plan, especially the energy chapter.”

Raising chickens is a step toward achieving many of the city’s goals, like composting, local food production and reducing household waste, Brown said. To realize that vision, the city needs to re-examine its current practices.

Support

Stephanie Phelps, who lives in Concord, wrote the city in support of the ordinance, explaining that her family has five Rhode Island reds at their home. She said her chickens provide her family many of the benefits the Browns enjoyed with their chickens: daily eggs, fertilizer and eliminating tics in the back yard. The neighborhood kids love to come and visit her chickens, Phelps said.

“Please approve the ordinance to reduce the district from 30ft to 5ft so that other Concord, NH residents my experience the joy of raising chickens themselves,” she wrote.

Maura Willing also write in support, listing many of the same environmental benefits.

“I think this is a terrific idea, as allowing more residents to have chickens satisfies many issues I support,” Willing wrote.

KaeBraeburn of Penacook said she would love to have chickens at her home now, but she doesn’t have space under the current ordinance.

And one of the Brown’s neighbors, whose fence used to border their chicken coop, said they never minded when the Brown’s had chickens.

“We never once had any issue with the Browns’ chickens,” Amanda and Kennan Alwyn wrote. “They were quiet neighbors – making far less noise than the cars passing by, lawn equipment or outdoor home repair. After spending years living in apartments, the chickens were a pleasant change. It was quaint, and fun to have chicken neighbors.”

Opposition

Other neighbors are not so keen on the chickens.

Brochu and her husband, Bill, said when the Browns had the chickens, they would regularly wake up at 4 a.m. because of the noise. The smell was also bothersome, they said.

Bill works from home and the window of his office looks out directly on the Browns’ yard.

The Brochus said they didn’t complain when the Browns got the chickens, because they were told by the Browns that it was legal for them to have the birds. They felt misled when they realized that was not the case.

Susan Craig, who lives in the Browns’ neighborhood, said there are some places in Concord where it’s just not appropriate for people to own chickens.

“A chicken coop could be 5 feet from the property line and also five feet from some person’s house. That just isn’t right,” she said. “That’s not enough space. So much of Concord is built cheek by jowl, built before there was any zoning at all. All you have to do is go into any of the downtown neighborhoods and look at the spaces between the buildings. ”

Catherine Pappas, who lives in a house between the Brochus and the Browns, spoke against the chicken ordinance at the city council meeting. She said it was a difficult thing to do.

“Having lived between them both, and I’m very close to their families and this is very painful to have to come up here and defend either one of them,” she said. “But I have to say this – chickens don’t belong in the city. They need a lot of space. I think the Browns are a wonderful family, but in this case, I said to Fran’s father, ‘Let me buy her two rabbits and we’ll all be happy.’”

Sent to committee

Fran was disappointed by the decision. She said she had been looking forward to the challenge of caring for the chickens herself. She had a goal of raising them from chicks.

She wanted to bring her chickens to school to teach other students about them, and she wants to feed them noodles as treats. She hoped to get a white chicken and name it “White Fang.”

“I think some people think they’re dumb, like the term ‘dumb cluck,’” Fran said. “They’re actually really smart and playful and funny. They’re like pets. I don’t think people realize how nice they are.”

She said she plans to keep going back to the city until she’s able to have chickens at her home.

“I’m going to keep on trying,” she said. “I want chickens, and I’m going to fight to get them.”




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy