Buckland eases chicken farming zoning

The Greenfield Recorder, June 08, 2017, by Diane Broncaccio

BUCKLAND — Until now, residents who wanted to raise chickens on less than five acres of land had to get a special permit.

But special town meeting voters have OK’d a zoning change that lets people have up to eight hens and eight “meat bird” chickens without a special permit on land-lots of between two to five acres.

This week, voters approved all zoning bylaw changes proposed by the Planning Board by a vote of 30-2. The bylaw changes ranged from simple housekeeping to clarifying language to make the bylaws easier to understand. They included a new definition of “common driveways,” so that up to four house-lots with road frontage could share a common driveway.

Another change was setting a deadline for the balloon/crane tests required to show the sight-lines for cell towers or small wind energy facilities taller than 80 feet. The new law says the balloon tests must be held within 30 days of the posted public hearing, so that the visual impact of the proposal is still fresh in people’s minds. The old bylaw made it possible for these tests to be done much earlier than the public hearings.

But the most discussion during the 90-minute meeting was about the zoning change for chicken-farming.

“The current bylaw is for livestock farming on five acres or larger,” said Planning Board Chairman John Gould. “But there was interest in keeping live chickens. The (number) requested was not large, and it seemed it should be possible in a right-to-farm community.”

Besides the restrictions on the number of hens and chickens without a special permit, the new rule says chicken farming is subject to all rules and regulations set by the Board of Health. The birds have to be common domestic chickens, and roosters are prohibited without a special permit. (The chickens raised for their meat are usually consumed before they mature into roosters.) The owners are responsible for their care and must not allow the birds to forage beyond their property. Also housing of chickens are not allowed within 30 feet of their property line.

Most of the discussion was about how many chickens were allowed. Several people attending wanted the bylaw to allow more birds without a special permit.

Karen Blom asked why all the 16 birds allowed couldn’t be hens or why they couldn’t all be meat-birds. Two amendments were proposed, voted on, and failed.

The first amendment was to allow 16 hens and 16 meat-birds on parcels between two acres and five acres. Lynn Kelsey pointed out that even hens can be noisy, especially in the Shelburne Falls village area. She said she can hear a neighbor’s hens on a block near her home.

The second amendment was to allow any combination of hens and meat birds, totaling up to a maximum of 16.

Another man asked how the town would enforce regulations regarding chicken farming. He was told it’s the building inspector’s job to enforce the town’s zoning bylaws.

Along with the zoning changes, voters approved paying for the following expenses: $54,976 for winter roads expenses; $4,000 for treasurer’s office software and tax title expenses; $20,000 for health insurance expenses; and $4,500 for retiree health insurance.