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Planning Board approves 'urban chickens' for Bath homeowner

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Planning Board approves 'urban chickens' for Bath homeowner

BATH — A Middle Street resident can continue to keep chickens at her
home after the Planning Board voted 6-1 Tuesday for her site plan
request.

Planning Director Jim Upham said the city does not have an ordinance
that pertains specifically to raising chickens. Whether Tuesday's
action lays a foundation for others to follow remains to be seen.

"The only provision that we have to deal with chickens, or goats, or
pigs, or horses on small lots is in Article 11 (in the city code)," he
said, which discusses the keeping of animals.  "(Tuesday) night was the
first time we'd had to deal with it with chickens."

Hiestand has 12 chickens at 967 Middle St., and one condition of
approval is that she can have no more than that number. Another
condition stipulates that the approval also pertains to her alone and
not to future owners of the property.

An additional condition calls for Upham to check with the
Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District to determine
how it would recommend the storage and disposal of chicken manure, and
that Hiestand must comply with that standard.

While one requirement in the city code requires shelter for such
animals to be located at least 100 feet from any neighboring dwellings,
Hiestand's shelter stands 75 feet from one neighbor. The Planning Board
granted a waiver after determining that the reduced distance would not
compromise public health, safety and welfare, Upham said.

Upham said Hiestand had the chickens prior to the vote, before being
informed by Codes Enforcement Officer Scott Davis that she would need
approval from the Planning Board.

Hiestand on Wednesday said she acquired the chickens in May when
they were 2 days old. Her chickens are all hens, who just started to
lay eggs on Oct. 29, "so I was thinking that would be so sad if I had
to get rid of them," she said.

"As it is, it's a lot of eggs, when they start laying," Hiestand
said. "They lay about 260 eggs a year, so once they start going, it's
like each one is going to produce an egg almost a day."

She said she keeps the hens in order to eat a local and fresh
product, and kept 40 chickens at one point when she lived in Bar
Harbor.

"They're very easy to care for," Hiestand said. "They're sweet."

She keeps the chickens indoors at night in a new barn near her house,
and the storage area has a door that leads outdoor to an enclosed pen.

"The Planning Board felt that the way she was doing all this ... met
the standards of Article 11, and they felt that it would not be a
detriment to the neighborhood," Upham said.

He said Planning Board Chairman Bob Oxton opposed the request
because he did not think it's appropriate to keep chickens in the urban
area of the city.

"We're going to have more requests for chickens," Upham said, adding
that one factor that must be considered is the potential for chicken
feed to attract rats.

He added that he has heard rats may also be drawn to the eggs or baby
chickens, but tend not to attack full-grown chickens.

Nonetheless, Brunswick, Portland and South Portland have all OK'd
the practice. Last month the Brunswick Town Council voted 8-1 to allow
some downtown residents to have up to six backyard hens for the purpose
of producing eggs. Selling and slaughtering of the chickens is
prohibited.  

"In a densely settled urban area, a waterfront community, I think
(rats are) a real concern, and I think that people need to be aware of
that," Upham said.

"I don't think every household that wants to have chickens, and isn't
going to be 100 percent aware of that problem, should be allowed to
have chickens," he added. "I think that's a real serious issue that a
lot of people aren't thinking about."

Upham said Hiestand is aware of the issue, and that her manner of
containing chicken feed in a sturdy storage bin with a heavy cover is
appropriate.

"I would be very upset if I had a rat in here," Hiestand said. "So I lock the birds up every night anyway."

"She's going to be feeding them indoors; there won't be feed all
scattered around," Upham said. "... I think that the way this is all
going to work, in this situation, probably will be safe. But I think
that the Planning Board is going to end up reviewing a lot of these."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.