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Brunswick starts clucking about chickens; board to consider allowing hens downtown

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Brunswick starts clucking about chickens; board to consider allowing hens downtown

BRUNSWICK – Backyard chickens could soon be coming to roost downtown, but the Town Council warned advocates not to count their fowl before a new ordinance is hatched.

The council voted unanimously on Monday to begin reviewing an amendment that would allow some residents to keep up to eight hens (and possibly unleash a barrage of really bad puns). 

Brunswick's current ordinance governing chickens doesn't allow the birds to be kept at downtown residences. However, a recent trend for backyard, or urban, chickens has gained momentum locally and nationally.

Portland recently amended its ordinance to allow up to six hens if residences meet minimum setback requirements. Westbrook allows six hens or more depending on lot size. Falmouth last fall altered its fowl ordinance. 

South Portland was one of the first southern Maine communities to tackle the issue. The City Council spent several months crafting its ordinance, which has extensive enforcement guidelines and setback requirements.

Each community allows only hens, not roosters. The chickens must  be raised for eggs and as pets, not for slaughter. The Brunswick proposal has the same restrictions.

The backyard chickens movement is largely attributed to an increasing interest in locally grown food, food safety and economics.

Town Council Vice Chairman Benet Pols said Monday that he was asked about amending Brunswick's chicken rules the night he was elected last November. 

Pols joined Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry and Councilor Debbie Atwood in sponsoring the amendment. Daughtry was particularly enthusiastic, going so far as to recommend the type of hens residents should purchase. 

Three residents spoke in favor of the amendment. Becky Shepherd, whose Union Street home abuts Bowdoin College's Beta House fraternity, joked that it was time for her to "start housing animals on her side of the fence."

Shepherd added that the groundwork for Brunswick's amendment had already been laid by other communities. 

While the council was generally supportive of the change, several councilors warned residents not to get caught up in the romanticism of raising hens.

Councilor Joanne King, meanwhile, said she wanted to see how other communities handled enforcement of the rules.

"I think most of the people who do this are going to do this the right way," King said, adding that the amendment should explicitly address methods for handling chicken owners who don't. 

King also raised some health concerns, an issue that has surfaced in other communities. 

According to a report in The Boston Globe, an Arlington, Mass. woman's proposal to house hens hit a roadblock when the Board of Health recommended her request be denied because of concerns over neighborhood density, noise, odor and the potential risk of avian flu.

Other communities, like South Portland, have wrangled over similar concerns, but many have relented after including setback and lot-size restrictions. 

Brunswick will also have to decide which town department will enforce the ordinance: animal control or codes enforcement. Pols, meanwhile, argued that enforcement would routinely be done by neighbors. 

The council's vote pushes the amendment to the Planning Board for review and recommendations. After that, the Village Review Board will make a recommendation before the language is presented to the council for final approval. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net