2016-01-07 / Around Town

Chickens Fine for Now

By Barry Bridges

To the chagrin of objecting neighbors, the Newport Zoning Board of Review has given its continuing approval for a chicken coop at 36 Caswell Ave., at least for a few months.

When the board gave the OK for a two-year special use permit for William Murdock’s coop in the spring of 2014, it was agreed that a later review would determine how things were progressing with the first coop sanctioned under the city’s then-new chicken-keeping ordinance.

Recent complaints from neighbors about a vocal rooster gave the additional need for a coop update, and Murdock appeared before the board at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 4. The Newport chicken ordinance does not permit roosters.

Murdock explained that his original birds were replaced with six new chicks, and as they matured it became clear that one was a rooster. “I looked for a home for him, and right now he’s at the Potter League,” Murdock reported. “I won’t get baby chicks again.”

Darlene Pezza of 34 Caswell Ave., who spoke against the coop when it was initially approved, returned to the board and said that she wasn’t impressed with the city’s oversight.

“It doesn’t seem to me that we’re getting enforcement from the city. The rooster’s noise has stopped now, but what’s to prevent it from happening again?” she asked. “There’s no one going in to look at the coop. We are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of our homes.”

Neighbor Susan Anderson supported Pezza’s concerns, and maintained that Murdock had the rooster on his premises for about three months but was not cited for a violation. “As a resident, I don’t feel like I’m well represented,” she testified.

City Zoning Officer Guy Weston reminded the board that they could revoke permission for the coop if it was warranted. But while zoning members questioned why it took Murdock several months to find a home for the rooster, he was given the benefit of the doubt.

“I don’t find that this was the fault of the property owner,” said Chair Rebecca McSweeney.

The board was also swayed by the fact that the coop’s original approval will expire in May, when Murdock will have to apply for another permit.

“I feel for the neighbors in this case, but I understand how this could happen with the chicks. I don’t see any need for changes at this time, as [Murdock] will have to re-apply in five months,” said zoning member Christopher Kirwin.

The vote in support of the coop until May was unanimous.

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