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Chickens in the city? Proposal for zoning change submitted; meeting tonight

April 10, 2013

PAWTUCKET — Fresh eggs and honey from Pawtucket? One local nutrition group would like to see changes in the city's zoning and animal ordinances to allow urban farming activities like these to take root.
On the City Council's meeting agenda for Wednesday night are three requests by Nancy Whit, of the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition, for changing the city's zoning and animal ordinances to allow for chicken hen keeping, honey bee keeping and aquaponics (a food production method that combines aquaculture and hydroponics). The council is expected to refer the requests to the Ordinance Committee for review.
Whit, who is also executive director of the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation, wrote to Mayor Donald Grebien last month on behalf of the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition to ask for his support for three proposed regulatory changes. The proposal sure to have the most people clucking would amend the zoning and animal ordinances to allow city residents to raise and keep chicken hens.
Whit stated to the mayor that the proposed regulatory changes will benefit the health of Pawtucket residents by improving nutrition, and will also have a positive environmental impact overall. She said the proposed ordinance language is modeled after ordinances in other communities that have successfully introduced residential chicken hen keeping. She added that restrictions have been incorporated to ensure the raising of chicken hens is done in a manner that is “safe, sanitary, and agreeable to occupants of nearby properties.”
Under the proposed regulation changes, only one chicken hen could be kept per 800 square feet of parcel or lot area, with a maximum of six chicken hens on any lot. Whit stated that at this population level, chicken hens “make very little noise or waste.” She noted that the proposed regulations expressly prohibit the keeping of roosters, which are generally responsible for the noise associated with poultry. Further, she stated, a chicken hen excretes “only a fraction of the waste of a mid-size dog and its manure is an excellent fertilizer for backyard plants or garden.”
Additionally, Whit wrote that the proposed ordinance includes specific and numerous restrictions on chicken hen enclosures to ensure the safety and well-being of the chicken hens and their surroundings, including requirements as to the site of the enclosure to prevent waste run-off and specifications on the disposal of chicken manure.
In her letter to Grebien, Whit asked for his support to the zoning change that will allow for the keeping of chicken hens in Pawtucket. She stated that the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition believes the proposed regulatory change will promote responsible chicken hen keeping and serve the best interests of city residents. “We look forward to joining Providence, Barrington, South Kingstown and other Rhode Island cities and towns that are reaping the benefits of chicken hen raising,” she wrote.
There is a long list of provisions regarding the chicken hen keeping, which is based on language from the city of Cleveland's zoning ordinance as well as requirements based on language from the cities of Providence and Barrington. Most importantly, the chicken hens must be provided with a hen house (coop) and a fenced outdoor enclosure, and the hen house must be located at least 20 feet from any dwelling. There are also provisions designed to limit odors and noise, and bans against open food so as not to attract insects and rodents.
Pawtucket's current ordinance does not allow for the raising or breeding of any animals and restricts the keeping of most farm animals including sheep, hogs, goats, cattle, horses, geese, ducks, rabbits or other fowl (except under special conditions prescribed by the Animal Control Officer.)
The proposed regulatory change regarding bee-keeping would state that no more than one beehive shall be kept for each 7,000 square feet or lot area, and no beehive shall be kept on a lot less than 7,000 square feet in area. There is also an extensive list of provisions that bee keepers would have to follow, including that the beehives must have removable frames that are kept in usable condition. It is noted that much of the language follows that of a similar ordinance in East Providence.
The provision also states that, as required by state law, all honey bee colonies shall be registered annually with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and a copy of the registration must also be submitted annually to the city's zoning officer and animal control officer.
City Council President David Moran said he hadn't had time yet to delve fully into the proposed ordinance changes, so it was too soon to express an opinion on the idea of chickens being raised in Pawtucket.
Moran said he expects the Ordinance Committee to fully explore the pros and cons of such a change, including how enforcement would be handled and other concerns. He added that he would also want to have the administration's input on this proposed change, particularly because it becomes a quality of life issue for residents.
Douglas Hadden, director of constituent services and communications for Mayor Donald Grebien, said the mayor has been supportive of many of the ideas that have come through the Pawtucket Healthy Places by Design initiative as these do, and he wants these proposals to move on to the City Council's Ordinance Committee for review.
He added, however, that anything affecting public health and safety is always a primary concern and the mayor wants to see these proposals more thoroughly analyzed and discussed.

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