Hens Are Legal

by Thomas MacMillan | September 9, 2009 11:27 AM | | Comments (20)

TM_090809_040.jpgAfter fending off two attempts to prevent the passage of new urban poultry legislation, Roland Lemar was heralded as a “Chicken Champion.”

Lemar (pictured), an East Rock alderman, played a key role in a spirited debate in City Hall Tuesday night, as the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance allowing city residents to keep hens in their backyards.

Leading the opposition to the ordinance was East Shore Alderwoman Arlene DePino, who made two separate proposals trying to block or modify the new law. Both motions led to lengthy debates in which East Rock’s Lemar emerged as the main defender of the legislation.

The bill ultimately passed, creating a new law that allows residents to keep up to six hens — not roosters — in their backyards.

The ordinance includes requirements and restrictions covering the size of chicken coops, their placement, and their distance from residences and property lines.

The law has been in the works for several months, having made its way through the City Plan Commission and two public hearings by the Legislation Committee, which Lemar chairs. This lengthy process resulted in a well-written and comprehensive piece of legislation, argued Alderman Lemar as he stood to speak for the bill.

Alderwoman DePino disagreed. “I don’t think it is our best work,” she said. She made a motion that the legislation be sent back to committee for revision.

Instead of an ordinance allowing hen-keeping for all, DePino suggested that residents seeking to raise poultry should have a streamlined process for seeking permission from the Board of Zoning Appeals. This would allow neighbors to speak out every time someone wanted to raise chickens, DePino said.

“The ordinance robs neighborhoods of their voice,” DePino said. The legislation would allow people to go out and buy hens even if they have existing Livable Cities Initiative violations, she added.

TM_090809_031-2.jpg“We have constructed an ordinance that is one of the most strict ordinances that you’ll ever see,” said Lemar, who represents East Rock. “This ordinance does not make it easier for anyone to … neglect their property.”

“I take offense at the idea that this is not our best work,” he said.

“Given the time and energy put into it, it deserves a fair up or down vote,” Fair Haven Heights Alderman Alex Rhodeen said, speaking out against DePino’s motion.

DePino continued to raise objections. She said that she had calculated that if hen-keeping caught on, a four-block area in her ward could become home to as many as 260 chickens. This would be very problematic, she said, given the “dozens and dozens of coyotes” living in the woods near Tweed Airport.

DePino also mentioned that chicken coops would be a noisy nuisance for people who work at night and would have to “listen to cackling all day” when they’re trying to sleep.

“Right now hens are being raised illegally,” Lemar said. “This makes it more difficult to do that.”

“We invested a lot of effort into this,” he went on. “This deserves a vote this evening.”

When DePino’s motion to table the ordinance was put to a vote, only 11 aldermen voted for it, and it failed to carry.

So DePino tried a different tactic. She introduced an amendment that would change the wording of the ordinance to increase the minimum distance separating chicken coops and human residences, from 15 feet to 30 feet.

Rising again to defend the bill, Lemar said that the ordinance’s original numbers had been approved by experts and repeated that the ordinance was very strictly worded. “Any further restrictions” he said, would prevent “large swaths” of residents from having hens. Their yards would simply be too small to locate a coop far enough away from any residence.

Fair Haven Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale agreed. “This amendment would effectively eliminate many of the houses in my ward that would like to have chickens,” she said.

In a vote of 18 to nine, DePino’s amendment was rejected.

As the lengthy discussion drew to a close, some aldermen burst out clucking noises when the motion to vote on the ordinance was finally made. The bill passed with only eight aldermen voting against it.

Rosemary Morgan, who keeps chickens on Bishop Street in East Rock, immediately rushed to Lemar’s side and tried to present him with a half-dozen fresh eggs. The little egg crate had a hand-lettered sign praising Lemar as a “Chicken Champion.”

Lemar turned down the gift however, apparently unwilling to accept eggs in exchange for legislation.

TM_090809_043.jpg“I suppose it looks like bribery,” said Morgan (pictured).

After the meeting, DePino said that she does not oppose people raising hens in the city. She said that she was simply trying to make sure that residents had a say in their neighbors’ decisions to keep hens. If people are not taking care of their property already, their neighbors should be able to say that they should not be allowed to add poultry to the mix, DePino argued

On her way out of the chamber, Downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said that the chicken debate had made for one of the best Board of Aldermen meetings in years.

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Posted by: Andrew from Goatville | September 9, 2009 12:28 PM

Eggscellent! (Couldn't help myself, sorry!)

Our humble neighborhood near East Rock Park used to be home to numerous families that rasied sheep, goats, hens and more. My generation gave up the practice about 40 years ago, but I'm glad to see that hens are reclaiming their place in the local argricultural scene. This ordinance certainly makes sense for our neighborhood and I think the entire city. Cheap eggs, fewer mosqitoes, fewer ticks, better lawns. Sounds good.

Posted by: robn | September 9, 2009 12:45 PM

A fine end to a foul affair.

Posted by: Paul Wessel | September 9, 2009 12:52 PM

I'm glad East Rock has a free-range alderman we can proudly crow about. We can be proud that New Haven's Chicken Champion successfully pecked away at the clucking naysayers. I will sleep soundly tonight know that the attempt to poach away my right to raise chickens has been turned back. Let's all dance a chicken dance for Roland.

Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | September 9, 2009 1:13 PM

Will the chickens get I.D.Cards and pay property

Posted by: Walt | September 9, 2009 1:55 PM

Are hens somewhat quiet compared to roosters?

How about the smell?

What constitutes an acceptable odor or noise under the new ordinance??

Posted by: Chickenneighbor | September 9, 2009 2:12 PM

Thank you Arlene for trying to put some restrictions on chicken owners. Perhaps when other families cannot allow their children out to play in their own yards because of the number of stray animals and cayotes that come during daylight hours to try to get the neighbors chickens they will begin to cluck a different tune.

Posted by: chuck | September 9, 2009 2:22 PM

"As the lengthy discussion drew to a close, some aldermen burst out clucking noises..."

So what else is new? I just want to know if ring-necked pheasants are also covered by the ordinance. Yummy!

Posted by: Marion Sylder | September 9, 2009 3:09 PM

Thanks Easter bunny, bawk bawk!

Posted by: anon | September 9, 2009 3:22 PM

Goats, llamas and sheep also would grow strong on the New Haven plain. Also, ever been to the Appian Way? The herds are perfect for traffic calming. It's time for an expansion of this ordinance!

Posted by: FacChec | September 9, 2009 4:30 PM

"I take offense at the idea that this is not our best work," said Lemar,

Downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said that "the chicken debate had made for one of the best Board of Aldermen meetings in years"

A chec of the BOA records shows no history of this type of legislation.
No wonder these two ... (Lemar & Clark) feel it's their best work in "years".

They never do anything else worthwhile for the city.

I agree with the chickens, "Pluck Dat".

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | September 9, 2009 4:30 PM

I do have to give you so credit on your skill to turn every story into a street calming story...love it!!!!

cluck cluck hurry!!! Good job...now we have more reasons to get the wolves out of the city do it for the chickens.
Do a write in for Mayor!!!

Posted by: Common Sense | September 9, 2009 10:13 PM

Now we know we have at least eight aldermen who are not hen pecked.

Posted by: streever | September 10, 2009 7:57 AM

I think Cassidy's Pampered Pets will be carrying Hen Feed (On State Street)....!

Posted by: Brian Tang | September 10, 2009 11:48 AM


Urban agriculture is key our future prosperity.

Posted by: Resident | September 10, 2009 12:28 PM

Can't wait to get sheep! No more lawn mowing...

Posted by: robn | September 11, 2009 7:55 AM

Next Step...

Bring Goats back to Goatville!

Posted by: Common Sense | September 11, 2009 1:25 PM

Robn...Good idea but some of us "old Goats" have never left....

Posted by: cathy shufro | September 11, 2009 1:43 PM

Hens are very quiet--quieter than most wild songbirds. A coop can smell bad in summer if it's not maintained, but urban hen owners can keep the coop clean and odor free by cleaning often, using lime and providing the hens with wood shavings for bedding.

Posted by: anon | September 11, 2009 2:08 PM

I am confident Roland would support you, Robn. Imagine all the goats, sharing all the streets. Imagine always meeting your neighbors outside, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to keep children from walking to school, no lack of chickens too.

Posted by: DavidK | September 14, 2009 9:38 AM

Who is going to enforce the hen house restrictions, the NHPD. You've got to be kidding.

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