Urban Chickens: Planning Board refers matter to Aldermen

NASHUA – City officials continue pecking away at an urban chicken ordinance, with the Nashua Planning Board referring the matter to the Board of Aldermen with a positive recommendation.

Chickens crossing the road and ending up in neighbors’ yards, the number of fowl allowed and coop standards were all issues eyed by the board at a meeting ealier this week.

“It’s one of the number one phone calls we get every single week,” said Sarah Marchant, Nashua community development director. “We have people calling asking if they can have chickens. It is amazing how many phone calls we get about chickens, and most of our answers are no because the majority of people don’t live in R-30 and R-40.”

The proposed ordinance, O-18-019, would allow for the keeping of domestic female chickens – not roosters – on a lot for the sole use and enjoyment of residents, while at the same time preserving the quality of life of surrounding neighborhoods by not allowing the animals to become a nuisance.

Marchant gave the board a brief presentation, providing background on how chickens would be allowed via a land-use permit, which can be purchased for $25. However, if the chicken coop exceeds a certain square footage, a building permit would be required, she said.

The ordinance would allow chickens to be kept in smaller residential zones, with a maximum of six at one residence. Geese and other fowl will not be allowed, Marchant noted.

She also said chickens would only be allowed at single-family homes and duplexes within those zones, and will not be permitted at three-family homes. In addition, chicken coops have certain standards, with a minimum amount of square footage and outdoor space per bird, as well as manure needing to be fully closed and stored, in limited amounts.

Marchant said coops must have 3-square-feet of floor space for each chicken if an outdoor run is provided, and if no outdoor run is provided, there’s a minimum of 10-square-feet per chicken required. She said there needs to be 1 square foot of roost space per chicken.

Code enforcement will work on a complaint basis, and someone will be sent for an initial approval of the permit to ensure everything is up to code.

“There are other cities that have done this very successfully,” Shoshanna Kelly, alderwoman-at-large said. “I believe it was Concord and Manchester and Dover (who) have all done this, and we did base our recommendations on their ordinances, as well.”

The Goddard Family, of Amherst, has 30 pet chickens. Family members are, back row from left, Matt Goddard, Sam Goddard, Suzanne Goddard; and front row from left, Bryan Goddard, Jennie Goddard holding Jack Jack Jr. and Josh Goddard.

Kelly said she is very much in favor of bringing urban chickens to the city.

Board member Gerry Reppucci said what surprises him about the whole presentation is when Marchant talked about how many calls come in.

“Quite honestly, it’s hard for me not to laugh about it while we are talking, because it has that sense, you know when your kids are going to go do something that they’re allowed to do, but you just have that bad feeling, like it’s not a good idea,” Reppucci said. “That’s the feeling I have about this. I can’t even say why. I just think it doesn’t feel like it’s a good idea, but it’s not up to us. It’s really up to the Board of Aldermen to do this.”

He went on to explain that he is shocked this is even an issue, and that he would go along with what other members suggest. That’s when City Engineer Steve Dookran clucked in with a comment that got the board’s wings flapping.

“You’re chickening out,” Dookran said jokingly.

During a brief public comment period, one woman voiced her opposition to the ordinance, while a man expressed his support.

Adam Varley, vice chair, referred to that man’s remarks and said if people are not taking care of their pets, whatever kind of pet they may be, certainly problems can arise. However, these chickens are going to be quite regulated with various requirements and limitations.

“I talked to Concord and Dover, and they have had overwhelmingly positive experiences and haven’t had any major issues with it,” Marchant said. “I’m not saying there’s no issues, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.