Council sends proposed Burrillville chicken law back for revisions

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Councilors discussed the issue this week in a meeting at the Public Safety Complex.

BURRILLVILLE – Noting that some of the language in the original proposed ordinance needs revision, the Burrillville Town Council has sent a potential change to town law governing who can keep chickens to the town’s Ordinance Subcommittee.

The decision follows two meetings with public hearings, at which residents expressed concerns about the proposed changes, originally laid out by the town’s Planning Department at request of Burrillville Animal Control.

The ordinance, amending Chapter 4 and 30 of the town’s code of ordinances, as well as Section 30-71 of the Zoning District Use Table, would mark Burrillville’s first detailed law on the issue. Currently, chickens are only legally allowed on properties of five acres or more that are zoned Farming Residential without a special use permit, which must be obtained from the Zoning Board.

The ordinance, however, has only been enforced based on complaints – which Zoning Official Steven Detonnancourt said come in at a rate of four to five times a week. Detonnacourt and Animal Control Officer Kerry Courtemanche said that even under the new law, the plan is to rely on complaints.

“We’ve been addressing it on a complaint-given basis, and referring them to zoning,” Courtemanche said of violators.

The new proposal, found here, would provide limits based on the size of the property and the area’s zoning, with specific rules to address roosters, free-range birds and rental properties. Proponents have noted that it is far less restrictive than what is currently on the books in town, and would effectively bring many residents who currently keep the birds into compliance.

But revisions are under way, including modifications to allow tenants to participate, and to remove, “owner-occupied,” requirement for residential homes. Courtemanche noted that tenants were originally excluded due to concerns about three and four-unit buildings with frequent turnover. She suggested that some renters could keep chickens with written permission from the property owner.

At a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14, resident Ben Ryan told the council that he felt, “execution-wise,” the ordinance, “left much to be desired.”

“I’m a proponent of getting rid of a special use permits for animals in general,” Ryan said, adding that, as written, the law seems unenforceable. “It’s an ordinance that relies on the animosity of neighbors. It doesn’t make sense.”

Courtemanche noted of animal enforcement, “We’re not going to drive door-to-door counting chickens.”

Ryan also took issue with the proposed limits on free range birds.

“Free-ranging chickens is a way to keep healthy chickens,” he said, noting that the average farm in the state is less than five acres.

“We live in a state that recognizes the constitutional right to farm,” Ryan added. “Why would you create restrictions that would just encourage nuisance action? It seems ridiculous to me.”

At the first meeting on the issue held in November, resident Cynthia Lussier noted that Burrillville has always been, “very rural,” expressing disappointment that the proposed ordinance wasn’t, “more flexible.”

This week, Town Manager Michael Wood suggested additional revisions to language, including clear definition of the problem’s effect on health and safety, and phrasing noting that rodents are among the problems caused by improper keeping of the animals.

He noted that revisions will also need to be made in terms of enforcement.

“We’d like you to – whenever you adopt the ordinance – give us some time to adopt some new enforcement regulations related to this situation,” said Wood, suggesting that, once complete, the ordinance could have an effective date sometime in April.

Councilor Justin Batalon said he would not support the new ordinance as currently written.

“I don’t think we, as the government, should be telling people they can’t,” have chickens, Batalon said.

Councilor Stephen Rawson noted that the town’s Ordinance Subcommittee – the usual recommending body for such changes – hasn’t had a chance to look at the proposal.

Rawson noted that problems such as Avian Flu mean that some type of comprehensive law is needed. Councilors voted unanimously to send the issue before the subcommittee for revisions, which Rawson said will take place on Thursday, Dec. 28 starting at 5 p.m. in the Town Council chambers. All suggestions, he said, will be taken into consideration, but he noted that there is no way to satisfy everyone.

“We have to do the best we can to satisfy the majority of people in town,” Rawson said.

Town Solicitor William Dimitri and Wood, meanwhile, will work out new rules for enforcement.

“We realized enforcement is weak,” agreed Rawson. “Fines are too small.”

Town Council President Don Fox agreed that, “Some people are not going to come away happy.”

“The rural character of our town,and our commitment to maintaining that is important, but it can’t be a free for all,” said Fox.

Councilor Raymond Trinque noted that even in the current version, the ordinance actually helps many residents.

“There are a few people who don’t qualify under this ordinance, but right now no one qualifies,” said Trinque. “This brings people into compliance.”

At the last meeting, Detonnancourt noted that to legally keep the birds right now, residents have to apply for a special use permit, which costs at least $500.

“What we’re trying to do is allow every property in town that’s a half acre or more to have chickens without going for a special use permit,” he said. “We’re not trying to take chickens away from anyone. We’re just trying to set guidelines based on property size.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great example of a town listening to its residents and trying to work out a workable solution. Chickens are awesome! lol

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