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Pittsfield Residents Bring Chicken Complaint to Council Committee

By Brittany Polito
iBerkshires Staff
06:37PM / Tuesday, May 04, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Ward 2 residents are going up against a flock of chickens that are reportedly disturbing abutters with sanitation concerns.
The Ordinances and Rules committee on Monday addressed Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi's petition to review the keeping of chickens at 16 Kensington Ave. In a 3-2 vote, the panel postponed voting on the matter until its June 7 meeting. Councilor at Large Earl Persip III and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio opposed postponing because they felt the panel had no purview.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing on May 19 during which it will determine if the birds are being kept in accordance with the special permit obtained for their keeping. In this situation, the ZBA holds authority over revoking the chickens' residency.
"The City Council and this committee I don't think has any role in determining whether or not those chickens are being kept under the conditions of the special permit," City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta said.
If a violation is cited in the May 19 meeting, the ZBA will have the authority to reverse the building inspector's determination of compliance and instruct and/or fine the homeowner.
Morandi said his constituents have sanitary concerns about the fowl because they roam free in a fenced area of the resident's property rather than being contained in a coop. He did not state how many residents have complained.
"The key here is sanitation, by those chickens roaming free, there are species out there in a fenced-in area, and they should be kept inside a coop like [the city code] says they should be," He said.
"These residents have reached out to me and there's a concern for their health, there's a concern that the building commissioner, as well as the Board of Health, is not adhering to what the code says, the state and the city building code, and especially that sanitation with public health is involved."
The city's guide for keeping chickens says they "shall be kept within a coop and enclosure at all times," and gives minimum sizes per bird and setbacks from buildings. 
In late 2020, the birds' owners requested and obtained a special permit to keep the chickens on their property. The permit came with a set of conditions granted by the ZBA.
Abutter Charlene Wehry of Yorkshire Avenue has been vocal about her opposition to the chickens on the next street, voicing her concerns on the open microphone segment of City Council and calling into this meeting.
Wehry requested that a building inspector investigate the situation, to which he made a determination that the chickens were being kept in accordance with the special permit. She elected to appeal the building inspector's determination to the ZBA, which was filed this past Friday.
Persip did not support continuing the petition, adding that they only have one side of the story and are not an investigative body.
"What does putting it off to the next meeting do for us?" he said. "We're not the investigative body, I don't know what putting it off does versus not putting it off or ruling one way or the other. This does not fall under us, we're not the investigators, we're not the zoning board, we have one side of information, so I guess I just don't know what putting it off does, we're not the hearing officer for this."
Maffuccio said he "sympathizes and understands" the abutter's concerns, as he went through a similar situation about 15 years ago that came down to being a Health Department issue.
For this reason, he wanted this petition to go to the Board of Health rather than being continued.
"Before this goes through the full process that's already in place we don't have really any jurisdiction on this, before we see what [the ZBA's] ruling is, there's no way we could really make any decision on this tonight," Councilor at Large Pete White said.
"However, depending on how it goes at ZBA, we may need to re-address this not as an amendment, we have an ordinance in place, it may be time to review that ordinance based on whatever ZBA's role is and there'll be an existing non conforming use if we make any changes to the ordinance so it would have no effect on anything that's in place now but it may have to be reviewed after."
Chairman Nicholas Caccamo added that continuing this agenda item does not mean the panel will embark on a full review or rewriting of zoning for chickens. Continuing this item until after its ZBA hearing is a courtesy to the resident and petitioner who brought the issue forward, he said.  

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