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October 10. 2012 11:24PM

City chicken policy comes home to roost


Michael Rennie Jr. is all smiles as he holds a chicken he plucked from his family's coop in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Two homeowners from different ends of the city plan to ask regulators tonight to allow them to keep their pet chickens on their property.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is expected to rule on variances to allow chickens in a yard on outer Union Street and at the end of Wells Street in east Manchester.

The hearings come as city officials say they are in the process of drafting language to relax the city's current ordinance, which basically prevents anyone but the largest property owners from owning even a single chicken.

But a draft won't be ready until next month at the earliest, said Max Sink, deputy commissioner of planning and community development. And once introduced, it could be months before aldermen vote on it.

Cities such as Concord, Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vt., allow chickens in some neighborhoods.

Sink said some city residents currently keep chickens in secret. His department usually finds out when a neighbor complains.

“If you believe what people say, there are probably hundreds in the city,” Sink said.

Nine are at 1667 Union St.

The owner, Alice Ward, said her son-in-law and daughter gave chicks to their two children last Easter. They raised them in a coop, but she let them out on a hot day this July, and they ran to a neighbor's property, which prompted a complaint.

She moved the coop away from her property line, but city inspectors told her she could not keep the chickens without a zoning variance.

“I believe in live and let live,” Ward said.

So she paid the $225 application fee to take her case to the board tonight.

The other case involves Tim Soucy of 239 Wells St. He appeared before the Zoning Board in September, and the board has delayed a decision until tonight.

Soucy wants to keep 15 hens on his property and says they're needed to calm his son, who he said suffers from post-traumatic stress.

Soucy also wants a variance for several other zoning violations — a deck, pool, gazebo and coop that are too close to his property line.

The city's zoning ordinance defines chickens as livestock and only permits them in the suburban-residential and conservation zones. Both zones are located on the outskirts of the city.

For any livestock, even one chicken, a landowner needs a minimum lot of an acre, and a quarter-acre for each subsequent animal.

Two years ago, the Zoning Board rejected a request by an Amherst Street property owner for a chicken variance. At the time, the board said the issue was one for aldermen to decide.

Ward said her family bought the chickens after a dog got loose, ran into Union Street and was hit by a car. Her 6-year-old grandson Michael Rennie Jr. has grown attached to a couple of the birds, and she fears what will happen if the Zoning Board turns her down.

“I'll have to tell my grandson we'll have to get rid of them,” Ward said. “It's sad. We don't want to buy another dog.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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