Count your chickens: Ordinance under review

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WESTBROOK —  The city is looking into banning roosters and setting new caps on the number of chickens a resident can have.

Councilor Lynda Adams said the review before the Committee of the Whole last week stems from a “contentious issue” in Ward 5, which she represents.

“The issue is someone owns a little more than an acre lot, and they have some farm animals on their lot and it is very disturbing to the neighbor,” Adams said. The impact, she added, is both in terms of sound and smell. She did not name the residents involved.

The property is in one of the four zones in the city in which farm animals are permissible.

Roosters are allowed in those zones, despite the fact that many other communities ban them.

The city’s ordinance related to keeping chickens in residential areas is 10 years old.

Properties up to 19,999 square feet can have up to six chickens and properties up to 39,999 square feet can have 12. Properties between 40,000- and 79,999 square feet can have 50. There is no limit on properties larger than that.

City Solictor Natalie Burns said the current cap on chickens in the city was borne out of extensive public input.

The council directed Burns and City Planner Jennie Franceschi to look into a rooster ban and new limits on backyard chickens to, in part, keep Westbrook’s regulations in line with those in other communities.

In Portland and South Portland, six chickens are allowed per residence. In Scarborough, a resident can keep an unlimited amount of backyard chickens if their property is more than 40,000 square feet, but limits them to either 5 or 10 if it is smaller.

A Gorham homeowner who wants to keep chickens must have a lot of at least 20,000 square feet, and six chickens are allowed. On lots of 20,000- to 40,000 square feet, up to 10 chickens are permitted. Properties more than 40,000 square feet can have 25.

Buxton doesn’t have a language to regulate the number of farm animals a property can have, but a zoning ordinance gives the Planning Board the power to limit the number or species of animal permitted.

Bonnie Tauwala knew of Westbrook’s restrictions when she and her husband bought their Cumberland Street home in 2014. Tauwala has 17 chickens, many of them named, and a goat on her 5.5-acre rural district zone property. She does not have a rooster, saying they are too loud and aggressive.

She said over the course of a week, her chickens produce about seven dozen eggs, much of which is given away to friends and neighbors.

After living in apartments and rental homes in Cumberland and Portland, their Westbrook home is the first place that the Tauwalas have been able to keep animals and she said she is “glad to have the opportunity.”

Councilor Gary Rairdon said chickens should be allowed in zoning that permits farms, but perhaps the number should be limited at residential properties in those locations.

“You can’t say it is zoned for farmland and then say ‘no, you can’t have (these chickens). It’s a double standard,” he said.

While farm animals are permitted in certain zones, owners of the properties have to make sure the animals are not wandering onto abutting properties or being a nuisance.

Council President Brendan Rielly said that is difficult to enforce because people’s definition of nuisance and threshold for noise and odor is different.

“The standard is not an enforceable one,” he said.

Franceschi said Animal Control Officer Phil Hebert follows up on complaints he receives, but too often there is no noise or smell issue when he arrives. Nevertheless, she said the city does try to work with a property owner to find ways to mitigate those concerns.

While she understands the concern brought up by Adams, Councilor Anna Turcotte wondered if it was a issue across Westbrook or just an isolated incident.

“I haven’t heard a thing about it in 10 years. I am not aware of this incident and there may be others around the city, but I haven’t heard of any,” Rielly said.

Westbrook resident Peter Murray has kept chickens for the last 30 years and has not had any complaints from neighbors. Chickens, he said, “reduce ticks, fertilize lawns and produce eggs.”

Adams said she feels there is an issue and wants to see the amount of chickens a residential property owner can keep, capped.

“I don’t want to tell people how to use their property, but I think we need to somehow do something in an ordinance to protect the residents (who abut these properties),” she said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

Chickens leave their coop Tuesday at the home of Bonnie Tauwala, who keeps 17 chickens on her 5.5-acre property. The City Council last week discussed the possibility of new caps on the number of chickens some homeowners in Westbrook can have.

Bonnie Tauwala holds one of her chickens, which she keeps to produce eggs and as pets. She grew up in a home in North Yarmouth that kept hens and is glad to have the opportunity to do that once again in Westbrook.

The chickens at the Tauwala home on Cumberland Street are allowed to freely roam the yard, but only when someone is there to supervise to make sure they do not wander into the street or abutting properties.

Bonnie Tauwala lets her pet goat Katahdin graze in the side yard of her home near the Windham/Westbrook line. Both Tauwala and her husband grew up in households where keeping backyard animals was common.

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