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Monroe loosens laws on backyard chickens

January 12, 2019

MONROE — Chickens have been part of Gail Bunovsky’s life for a long time. The 78-year-old Monroe resident began keeping chickens about 45 years ago, stopped for a while, then took up raising the poultry again about a decade ago.

She has roughly 14 of the birds in two coops on her property, and loves the fresh eggs they provide for her and her family.

So Bunovsky applauded the town’s recent decision to change regulations preventing Monroe residents from keeping chickens unless they had at least two acres of property. Bunovsky has two acres, so the regulations didn’t prohibit her from having chickens, but she knew a lot of people were upset about the rules.

“I’m very happy,” Bunovsky said, adding that the restriction was the result of “a mistake they made a while back. I’m glad to see it changed.”

The two-acre rule was the result of a major overhaul of town zoning regulations in 2013. Patrick O’Hara, who was chairman of the planning and zoning commission at that time, said an error caused chickens and poultry to get lumped in with regulations governing the keeping of horses and other large animals.

Under those regulations, people living in residential farming districts were permitted two animals weighing more than 500 pounds for the first two acres of property owned, and one animal of that weight class per each additional acre. Residents could also have four animals weighing less than 500 pounds — which would, presumably, include chickens — per the first two acres, and two more animals per each additional acre.

“We soon realized that this wasn’t really what we were looking to do,” said O’Hara, now a member of the town’s board of finance.

A few years ago, the commission began to get complaints about the restrictions, said current planning and zoning chairman William Porter.

“We were getting feedback from people with lots smaller than two acres who were interested in having small backyard flocks,” he said.

In Connecticut, municipalities make their own policy on whether residents can keep live poultry. Even among towns and cities where live poultry is allowed, regulations vary. Other towns that allow backyard chickens include Trumbull and Milford.

Porter said the commission put the chicken issue on its list of things to be addressed, but that other topics took precedence — like updating parking regulations. Then, he said, about six or eight weeks ago, the town got around to changing the livestock regulations.

Under the new rules, there is no lot size requirement to keep live poultry. Instead, the emphasis is on keeping the birds away from property lines.

The new statutes state that any structure housing 12 or fewer female poultry should be no less than 50 feet from any property line, and that any structure housing male poultry or more than 12 female poultry should be no less than 100 feet from any property line.

Coops also can’t be placed between a home and the street.

Though some poultry fans said the new rule is better than the two acre rule, they added that the new statutes are still fairly restrictive.

Bunovsky said she thinks the setback requirements should be smaller — 25 to 30 feet instead of 50 to 100. She said she fears that the larger requirements “will keep a lot of people from keeping chickens.”

Traci Torres agreed. The Monroe resident owns My Pet Chicken, which offers information, products and services for those interested in keeping backyard flocks.

Torres pointed out that, even though the commission changed the two acre rule, they also reduced the number of chickens that can be kept in a structure. The old regulations dictated that any structure housing 24 or fewer female poultry could be kept within 50 feet of the property lane. Now a structure with that many hens needs to be kept 100 feet from property lines.

“There just aren’t that many lots in town” that allow for that,” she said.

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