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Pittsfield Eying Chicken Keeping Ordinance
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
02:18PM / Friday, September 23, 2022
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The proposed ordinance would place chicken keeping under the Health Department, rather than the ZBA, and reduce the license fee.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Ordinances and Rules Subcommittee is looking at a process to make the keeping of chickens more affordable.
The councilors heard a petition on Monday from Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky requesting to amend the city ordinance for keeping chickens. City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta and Director of Community Development Justine Dodds were asked to weigh in.
Resident Melissa Corbett contacted Kalinowsky and proposed a permitting process for the raising of six chickens that goes through the Board of Health instead of the Zoning Board of Appeals and has an initial fee of $25.  
The current application fee, legal announcement fee, and deed amendment fee total more than $500, which the councilor described as exorbitant and not cost-friendly to low-income families.
Corbett seconded that the licensing fee is cost prohibitive for families keeping the chickens for the use of eggs to save money.
"The current process discriminates, in my opinion, against low-income families who want to own chickens and it can easily be simplified, as Councilor Kalinowsky mentioned, by switching it to the Board of Health," she said.
"I looked at 25 cities in Massachusetts with similar demographics and none had a price as high as Pittsfield and very few had anything that went through the Zoning Board of Appeals.  All of it was through the Board of Health in other cities and in general in tough economies in the past, it was considered patriotic and helpful to keep chickens, even in a city and urban environment, and I believe that's still true, especially as the economy is changing now, and that backyard chickens should be supported by the city."
Her daughter also spoke during the meeting to make a case for backyard chickens, adding that they provide eggs and kids can learn a lot from having them.
"The fee is so expensive, a homeschool family like ours could not afford them," she said.
"We want to be good citizens and have the right permit but the permit cost is unjust to low-income families like mine."
Dodds explained that the city's zoning ordinance dictates that it has to go through the ZBA and it would require a petition to be put in the hands of another department.
Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said that currently, the department would not have the capability to oversee this.  He added that it is possible to recreate it to go through the Board of Health but personally questioned why it would be changed if it is already existing.
Councilors were supportive of the idea but deliberated on the best way to move forward.
The committee will take up the petition again at its October meeting with an update from Pagnotta and Dodds and will receive feedback from the health department at its November meeting.
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