Planning recommends revised chicken ordinance

Published 10:46 am Friday, July 21, 2017

Windsor’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the revised residential chicken ordinance to Town Council following a public hearing at which numerous residents voiced their support of the changes. The hearing was held on Wednesday evening.

Speakers in favor of the changes to the ordinance included Karen Faulkner, C.P. Griffin, Councilman Walter Bernacki and Kelly Blankenship. The commission also received three letters in support of the changes from residents who were unable to attend the hearing in person: Dakota Bernacki, Ron Trager and Carolyn Griffin. No one spoke against the changes.

A majority of the comments made focused on the new setback requirements added to the ordinance, which specify that chicken coops must be at least 15 feet from all property lines. Faulkner suggested changing the setback to eight feet and Griffin suggested making the setback the same as what Windsor currently requires for dog pens, which is five feet.

“I think 15 feet in a small yard might be essentially putting the chicken coop in the middle of the yard,” Faulkner said.

Bernacki also suggested changing the setback to eight feet, and said that the constituents he had spoken with after going door to door had told him that they did not feel there was a significant difference between a chicken coop and a shed. However, Blankenship said that even eight feet would be too high for her, given that her yard is long but narrow.

“I think it’s only about 30 feet deep, so eight feet would put it in the middle of the yard,” she said.

Larissa Williams, the Planning Commission’s newest member, said she did not feel that the setbacks would be that big of an issue provided that residents with chickens followed all the other rules specified in the ordinance and kept their coops clean and sanitary.

“I wish what we could do is take a field trip out to someone who feels they have a clean chicken coop with six chickens in it, and take a deep breath and see how it is; I don’t know what eight feet away smells like,” she said.

The commission ultimately decided to keep the 15-foot setback requirement, but instructed Town Manager Michael Stallings to add language that would allow residents with yards such as Blankenship’s to place their chicken coops closer to the property line provided they obtained a license to do so from their neighbors.

The suggestion to do so came from Town Attorney Wallace Brittle, who said that a license from a neighbor would be legally recognized by the town but would be less formal than an easement. As such, it would not need to be filed in the county courthouse and would not transfer with the property should the chicken owner or the neighbor relocate. The license would also be revokable at any time.

“That adds motivation,” Williams said. “You’ll want to keep your chicken coop clean because if you don’t, your neighbor can revoke that. They have power now.”

Commission member George Stubbs asked how many infractions the town would tolerate before taking action against someone in violation of one or more provisions of the chicken ordinance.

Williams asked how long residents would have to remedy ordinance violations before it would be considered a second offense.

Stallings said that infractions would be considered a zoning violation, and that seven to 10 days is the normal amount of time the town gives residents to correct that type of infraction.

He added that language could be added to the chicken ordinance stating that a resident’s permit to keep chickens could be revoked for violation of the ordinance’s provisions.

The ordinance put before council will include the suggestions made that night regarding the license from neighbors and consequences for repeated violations of the ordinance. Windsor’s Town Council will likely hold a public hearing of its own on the revised ordinance during their September meeting.