MANCHESTER — After nearly two years of review and debate, a chicken ordinance may finally be close to hatching in the Queen City.
The aldermen's Committee on Administration approved a proposal this week that would allow residents who live on parcels a half-acre or larger to have up to six hens. Those on smaller lots would have to seek a variance from the city Zoning Board.
The vast majority of lots in Manchester are smaller than a half-acre, or 21,780 square feet. But the plan, unlike previous versions, would allow chickens at multi-family properties, with the consent of the owner.
By adopting the proposed ordinance on Tuesday, the committee opted to take a middle road between the current policy — permitting livestock on lots at least an acre size — and a proposal from Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau, which would have set a minimum lot size of a quarter-acre.
Corriveau also proposed an annual $35 fee for a permit to keep chickens, which he argued would help cover the costs of overseeing the regulations.
Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, the chairman of the Administration Committee, said she was concerned that the city didn't have the "processes in place" for a licensing system. "I wanted to do something that would allow people to have chickens with as little regulation as possible," she said.
When the city's Planning Department was asked to draw up an ordinance more than 1½ years ago, it proposed allowing up to six hens at a single-family houses with lot sizes of at least 7,500 square feet — considerably smaller than what the committee adopted on Tuesday.
A majority on the administration committee rejected the Planning Department's original proposal, but the aldermen, at their full board meeting two weeks ago, voted to keep the idea alive.
At the committee meeting on Tuesday, Jane Beaulieu, a local activist and Democratic state representative, urged aldermen to create a legal framework for keeping chickens.
"There are a lot of people that have chicken coops, and unless a neighbor complains, the city doesn't know they're there," she said in an interview. "If you don't actually visit people who have coops, then I don't think you have a good understanding of what urban farming is, especially in Manchester."
Beaulieu said the vote by the committee was a step forward, but would still require many people to seek a variance.
"I don't think they should have to get the approval of the neighborhood. If someone has a dog, or two or three, do they need to get the OK from their neighbors? And they can be much more of a nuisance than chickens," she said.
During the public comment period, Kaitlyn McCarthy, said she had kept chickens in a small portable coop — until neighbors called the authorities. "You have to look at the individual conditions (at a property)," she said.The revised ordinance is expected to be considered by the full board in two weeks.