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Pittsfield O&R Sends Residential Chicken Regulation Request to ZBA
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
01:58AM / Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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The Ordinance & Rules Committee hears about issues related to chickens and changes to the Youth Commission.

Charlene Wehry lays out her reasoning for chicken regulations to be put into ordinance. Wehry believes her neighbor is in violation of the guidelines but the code enforcement officer has disagreed. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Ordinances and Rules Committee is wary about writing a new ordinance based on one neighbor's struggles with another's chickens.

The panel on Monday referred a petition to the Zoning Board of Appeals that asked it to review and amend the city guidelines for keeping the birds and see if it should be converted it into an ordinance.

The committee also requested an update to the chicken guidelines, which were cited as being unclear when it comes to keeping residential fowl within the bounds of Pittsfield.

The petition was brought forth by Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi on behalf of Yorkshire Avenue resident Charlene Wehry.  

For months, Wehry has argued that the six chickens being kept by her abutting neighbor Emily Silver were in violation because of an insufficient coop and their ability to roam in a fenced area.

"The city currently has no chicken guidelines, but only to offer guidance, there's no backup right now, because of this, there's too much interpretation," Morandi said to the subcommittee.

"Please consider cleaning up these guidelines and making them clearer by putting them into the zoning ordinance, by updating them it will protect the city more for both chicken owners and neighbors. I would encourage you to put in a clause or condition, and a zoning ordinance, by having a $500 fee for a special permit on it."

Wehry has argued for months that the chickens being kept by her abutting neighbor Emily Silver were in violation of the guidelines.

She came to the meeting equipped with a box of paperwork and a lengthy proposal.

Wehry said the guidelines need to be a zoning ordinance and not a city ordinance. She outlined areas of zoning ordinance rules and regulations that the chicken ordinance could exist including Article 23-7 Conditional Uses, Section 7.732 Agricultural Use, or making its own category.

If the City Council decided to put this in as an ordinance, she added that it could go under "non-domesticated animals" but would need a clause embedded that requires a special permit.

"The guidelines are not fully working, they need to be updated, just like 70 percent of cities and towns in Massachusetts have, over the past five years," Wehry said.

"This needs to go through the same process as updating abutters notifications. As stated in an email to all of you, switching the responsibility of chicken keeping to the Health Department and leaving it as guidelines, which are only guidance, leaves a lot of room for interpretation."

In late 2020, Silver requested and obtained a special permit to keep the chickens on her Kensington Avenue property. The permit came with a set of conditions granted by the ZBA.
Wehry requested that a building inspector investigate the situation and he made a determination that the chickens were being kept in accordance with the special permit.

She tried to appeal the building inspector's determination to the ZBA in May but it was rejected.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio said he has no problem with abutter notifications but asked where they would stop if this petition was approved.

He said this seemed like a "personal vendetta" situation, citing a lack of chicken complaints from others. This did not sit well with Wehry, who asserted that this was not the situation.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III asked Wehry if the chickens are trespassing onto her property.  She confirmed that they were not but were allowed to roam right up to the fence that separates the two properties.

Persip said he has a problem with going through a lengthy ordinance writing for a "problem that he does not see as a problem."

Councilor at Large Pete White said he sees no issue in chickens being able to roam up to a dividing fence but saw an issue with the guidance being unclear.

He didn't see a problem with the council looking at the guidance to see if gray areas can be cleared up but would want to coordinate with Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner to make sure their efforts aren't duplicated.

"I know one of the things that have always upset me about somebody who wants to keep chickens is we're a right-to-farm community, however you have to live on five acres, to have that right to farm," White said.

"So, I think a lot of people are just misinformed about the rules in Pittsfield, and the fee is entirely driven by what it costs to, unfortunately, put a notice in the local paper."

Morandi concluded by saying the city doesn't even know how many chickens are in Pittsfield, which is where the conversation needs to start.

This petition is on the agenda for Wednesday night's ZBA meeting.

After some discussion, the panel approved an amended petition from Maffuccio asking to review and make changes to the Youth Commission Section of the city charter.

He submitted an updated version of the charter that was rewritten by City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta, which was approved with an amendment that turned the youth terms on the commission from three years to one year.

Maffuccio said he is looking to update the commission because the city no longer has a director of youth services. He believes it is important to get the younger generation involved in city government and that the commission would provide a bridge for that.

The council first began looking into reenacting the Youth Commission, which has been inactive since 2015, in early 2020.  

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