Chickens in Pawtucket?

Chickens in Pawtucket?

Healthy Foods Coalition wants new rules allowing them

PAWTUCKET - Proposed new local regulations could make it legal for city residents to raise and keep chickens in their yards.

Members of the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition are asking for leaders' support of new rules they say would "benefit the health of Pawtucket residents." They say changes to the city's zoning ordinances and general ordinances would: Increase access to eggs, a "low-cost source of protein;" boost the nutritional value of eggs due to the varied diet of residential chicken hens; reduce potential disease risks attributed to the crowded conditions of commercial egg production facilities; and have a positive environmental impact by reducing egg processing, packaging and transportation.

A three-tiered proposal from the Healthy Foods Coalition would allow residents to keep bees and to practice aquaponics, a way of sustainably raising fish and plants together.

"The proposed (chicken) ordinance language is modeled after ordinances of communities that have successfully introduced chicken hen keeping," states a letter to Mayor Don Grebien from Nancy Whit, of the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition. "Restrictions have been incorporated to ensure the raising of chicken hens in a manner that is safe, sanitary, and agreeable to occupants of nearby properties."

One restriction of particular interest to those who enjoy their peace and quiet is one that bans roosters.

"We believe that this proposed regulatory change will promote responsible keeping of chicken hens in Pawtucket, and that the advantages of this change serves the best interests of the residents of Pawtucket," states Whit. "We look forward to joining Providence, Barrington, South Kingstown and other Rhode Island cities and towns that are reaping the benefits of chicken hen raising."

Members of the Pawtucket City Council will consider the proposed rules changes at their meeting Wednesday night. City Council President David Moran said that the council will likely send the idea to its ordinance committee for consideration.

The idea of relaxed chicken restrictions has had a tough go of it in other urban communities. On April 1, the Woonsocket City Council voted 5-2 against a controversial measure to allow them to be raised in that city.

Last December, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung vetoed a similar measure to allow chickens in his city, citing, among other things, concerns about rats and a possible hit to property values.

A spokesman for Grebien said that the administration is not taking a position on the chicken measure as it heads to the council for consideration. But the mayor is emphasizing that "public health is paramount" to him on any such proposal.

Zoning Director Shaun Logue said Tuesday that he's seeing chicken ordinances cropping up more and more, but "not in such dense urban fabric as Pawtucket." It was not immediately clear whether Logue believes Pawtucket is more "densely urban" than Providence.

"I'm not completely opposed to the proposal, however, there are several things to take into consideration, like public health, sanitation, conditions and standards, and nuisances," he said in an e-mail. "If this is not carefully thought through, then it can lead to a big problem in the future..."

One question that needs to be answered, said Logue, is on the term "chicken hens" being used by the Healthy Foods Coalition. Female chickens are called "hens," he said, while males are called "roosters."

"So are they only proposing that female chickens are permitted?" he said. "I think the proposal has to be carefully thought through and we need more answers before moving forward."

According to Whit, there would be strict regulations governing the keeping of chickens. Under the proposal, only one chicken hen could be kept per 800 square feet of property, with a maximum of six chicken hens on any lot.

"At this population level, chicken hens make very little noise or waste," said Whit. She noted that a chicken hen produces only "a fraction of the waste of a mid-size dog, and its manure is an excellent fertilizer for back-yard plants or gardens."