One resident worried that making it easier to raise chickens in Shelton would lead to unsanitary conditions that would attract rats and also take business away from local farmers who now sell fresh eggs.
But another resident said backyard chickens eliminate dangerous ticks by eating them and also produce fresh eggs that can be a local, healthy food source.
The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) heard from both sides during a public hearing last week on proposed changes to allow chickens on housing lots from one to five acres.
Chickens currently are allowed only on properties of five acres or more, which can be classified as farms.
The proposed new regulations would allow people to keep up to five chickens on lots from one to two acres, and up to 10 chickens on lots from two to five acres. Roosters would be prohibited on all properties smaller than five acres.
Under the proposed change, roosters would continue to be prohibited on lots smaller than five acres.
Must be in coops, can’t roam free
On smaller lots, the new rules would require that chickens be kept in coops or similar structures that are properly screened, not be allowed to roam free, and be prohibited from front yards or within 50 feet of a property line.
In addition, certain sanitary standards would need to be maintained and the eggs could not be sold to the public.
The public hearing will continue at the P&Z meeting on Feb. 25, when more people are invited to share their views. “We really do want to hear your input on this,” P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said.
At last week’s hearing, one person spoke against altering the current restrictions and two people spoke in favor of the changes. The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) chairman also commented on the issue.
Robert Zaleski of Walnut Tree Hill Road strongly opposed liberalizing the rules, saying the raising of chickens impacts many neighbors.
“Sanitation becomes an issue when the chicken droppings are not disposed of properly,” said Zaleski, reading from a letter he and his wife, Joyce, submitted to the P&Z.
“Spilled chicken feed and chicken droppings will attract rats,” he said, and allowing chickens on smaller lots means “the rat infestation will become prevalent with no natural controls.”
“Who is going to be responsible for the exterminator fees for the neighbor who suddenly has a rat problem he never had before?” Zaleski said.
He wondered how the number of chickens on a property would be monitored by zoning officials. “Will we have to hire a full-time or part-time chicken checker?” he asked.
The issue has become “personal” for him and his wife, Zaleski said, because a new neighbor allegedly has “erected a coop/barn covered with a plastic tarp” to raise chickens, roosters, goats, and turkeys.
Zaleski claimed that animal waste now is being dumped in a brook, and his complaints to the P&Z office about what he called “a nightmare” situation have so far failed to rectify the situation.
Matt Jenness of Earl Street supports making it easier to raise chickens, and said the proposed changes seem “a little restrictive.” He owns chickens.
Jenness said egg-laying chickens are becoming a popular way for people to “know the source of their food.”
He said chickens eat ticks, “and ticks are a problem in Connecticut.” His cat used to attract multiple ticks a day, but now gets “zero” ticks due to the chickens. “They’re all gone,” he said.
Jenness said chickens will eat just about all food scraps, and their manure is good for gardening. He also said six hens produce only as much solid waste as one dog, “so I question why we’re regulating chickens and not other animals.”
He proposed allowing chickens on lots as small as a quarter-acre, using a sliding scale of two per quarter-acre. “Open up the opportunity for those not fortunate enough to own an acre of land,” Jenness said.
Janet Laskos of Perch Street agreed with Jenness that chickens should be allowed on smaller lots. “Your idea is too restrictive,” she told the P&Z.
Laskos said having more people with chickens would boost local stores that sell chicken feed and related items.
Ed Conklin, who is ZBA chairman, said the 50-foot setback could cause issues on certain smaller lots.
“You’d have to put the coop in the kitchen,” he said, and this would create a hardship for the property owner, who might then seek a ZBA variance.
Background of regulations
The issue of chickens on residential lots came up last year when complaints were received about a Walnut Avenue resident having chickens and a rooster on a two-acre lot.
That resident then applied for a variance to the ZBA, which did not take action but instead suggested the P&Z reconsider its current restrictions.
According to city P&Z administrator Rick Schultz, Shelton’s chicken regulations were tightened up nine years ago, leading to the five-acre requirement.
At the time, Schultz said, problems with crowing roosters and free-roaming chickens were seen as “a public nuisance.”
Currently on a farm of five acres or more, a property owner may keep unlimited livestock and poultry, including roosters. This would not change under the proposal being considered.
The acreage figures used in this article have been generalized, and reflect what is commonly called a “builder’s acre.” The actual lot sizes involved are slightly smaller.
For legal purposes, the zoning lots sizes involved are 40,000 square feet (“one acre,” actually 0.92 acres), 80,000 square feet (“two acres,” actually 1.84 acres), and 200,000 square feet (“five acres,” actually 4.6 acres).