Planning board says no to backyard chickens

BERLIN – The planning board is recommending the city council not allow backyard chickens in the urban area of the city.
The board cited concerns over the city's ability to enforce and regulate backyard chickens at a time when the city budget and code enforcement department are both stretched thin. Some members also felt allowing chickens was not fair to abutters who purchased their properties based on an ordinance that did not allow chickens. The fact the typical lot in the city is 50 by 100 foot factored into the board's decision.
"It's not so much the idea I'm opposed to – it's the nuts and bolts," said board member Tom McCue.
The board made its decision Wednesday night after taking public input for about 45 minutes. While a majority of those who testified at the public input session were supporters of raising chickens, board members were not persuaded it was a good idea. Only board member Mark Evans expressed support for allowing chickens to be raised throughout the city.
Board members pointed out that chickens are currently allowed by special exception in rural residential zones of the city. But chickens are not allowed in single family and two family residential zones and the board is recommending that restriction remain.
The board's decision came after several months of discussion on the issue. Backyard chicken advocate Lynn Lipari made a detailed presentation to the board at its July meeting. Lipari proposed the city allow residents to raise a limited number of chickens. Roosters would be banned and a minimum setback of 15 feet would be required between the chicken coop and property line. Eggs could not be sold and there would be no on-site slaughtering of chickens allowed.
Many of those speaking in favor of backyard chickens Wednesday said they would support a permit system and inspections with an annual fee to help offset the city's cost.
Several talked about the value of locally produced food and said the eggs are superior to those purchased in a store.
Martha Roberts of Western Avenue said chickens eat all kinds of bugs and said her family has raised chickens in the past without any problems. Don Benski, of Pleasant Street, said before moving to Berlin he had three hens he raised in a residential setting. He said the waste produced was small and he composted it.
"It's not a huge farming operation," he said.
Other speakers noted concerns were raised about chickens attracting bears and other animals. One said the problem exists now with bird feeders and trash and chicken coops properly managed should not be a problem.
But others opposed allowing chickens throughout the city. In a letter to the board, Robert Usherson of Twelfth Street said he purchased his home after reviewing the zoning ordinance about activities allowed on surrounding properties.
"With regard to the raising or keeping of chickens, I believe that such activities are not compatible with the density, lot coverage, setbacks, and other standards of development permitted in Berlin's urban residential zoning districts," he wrote.
Yvonne Thomas of Norway Street said she believed the value of her property would be reduced if an abutter chose to raise chickens.
The planning board's recommendation will now go to the city council for its review. The council sought the planning board's input after several residents approached the council earlier this year about raising chickens.