On April 4, 2023

Proctor to vote on what constitutes a public nuisance

New rules on backyard chickens lead residents to petition for a special vote April 19

Staff report

PROCTOR — Enough chicken owners in Proctor are upset about an amended town ordinance that puts restrictions on owning fowl that they have called for a town-wide vote to decide the matter.

The petition for the vote was submitted  to the board with 68 names of registered voters, and on March 13 the select board voted to set April 19 as the date for a special town meeting. The vote will be held from the floor of the Proctor Free Library at 6 p.m.

The amendment to the public nuisance ordinance was adopted by the board Jan. 23 and became effective March 24. The previous rules didn’t apply to people keeping chickens in the more rural areas of town.

Previously, the town’s rules governing chickens were under the zoning bylaws, amending public nuisance ordinance to include these rules makes them apply to the entire town. Zoning laws are more about guiding development rather than enforcing rules like these.

The Select Board was advised by legal experts that zoning bylaws are not the most appropriate place for these types of rules.  

The amendment was the result of individual board members, along with the town manager, receiving complaints about chickens that were not respecting property boundaries throughout town, according to a special town meeting FAQ sheet on the town’s website. 

In response to these complaints, the Select Board added following rules to it’s Public Nuisance Ordinance that did not already exist in the zoning bylaws:

“No livestock, swine or hogs shall be kept within 100 feet of any residence, dwelling house, or street. Livestock pens and yards must be kept deodorized by the application of dried muck, dry earth or some other effective absorbent or disinfectant; provided, nevertheless, that no person, persons, firm, partnership, corporation, or other legal entity shall keep or maintain more than 4 swine or hogs within the limits of the city.

“No fowl or chickens shall be kept on property in such a manner as to cause a public nuisance and the buildings and yards shall be kept deodorized by the application of dry earth or some other effective absorbent or disinfectant.  All fowl and chickens kept within the town limits shall be confined in an enclosure, and shall not be permitted to run at large.  No more than twelve (12) fowl or chickens may be harbored on a single premises.”

The current zoning bylaws say:

“The raising or harboring of livestock, including but not limited to horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, fowl or fur bearing animals shall be prohibited within the residential district unless the owner obtains the written approval of all property owners within one hundred (100) yards of the premises. Accepted agricultural practices are exempt from this section. Common household pets are excepted provided that there are not more than four (4) cats and /or dogs over six (6) months old harbored on an individual premise in the residential district. Chickens are permissible in the residential district as a common domestic animal, but roosters are not. No more than 12 chickens may be harbored on a single premise in the residential district.”

Farms are exempt from these rules. 

While the ordinance references all livestock, it’s the section that amends the rules about keeping chickens that concerns most residents, according to Carrie Covey, who circulated the petition calling for the vote.

Covey is a former selectwoman, herself, and keeps chickens at her home.

In addition to being hard to enforce, it also is too over-reaching, she told the board. 

The Rutland County Sheriff’s Department is effectively the town’s animal control officer, so they’d be responsible to respond if there’s a complaint filed — something that has not worked very well for the existing rules, residents told the board.

For more information visit the town’s website: proctorvermont.com.

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