SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 13, 2012

Chickens on agenda at Ipswich Town Meeting

By Bethany Bray Staff writer
The Salem News

---- — IPSWICH — Got chicken?

Keeping chickens in residential backyards has become so popular in Ipswich that Monday’s special Town Meeting will vote on a bylaw change that will make it easier to do so.

Ipswich’s current zoning laws require anyone who wants to keep chickens on less than 1 acre to petition the town for a special permit — a painstaking and costly process, according to some residents.

Article 6 on Monday’s Town Meeting warrant would tweak the bylaw to allow chickens to be kept on less than 1 acre without having to get a special permit. The new regulation would limit the number of chickens that can be kept based on a ratio of lot size — up to six hens in 10,000 square feet or less; up to 10 hens in lots between 10,000 and 21,000 square feet; and up to 14 hens in lots 21,000 to 43,560 square feet.

Town Meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the performing arts center at Ipswich High School. In addition to the chicken article, the meeting warrant contains several other zoning bylaw changes and tweaks to town and school budgets.

Article 6 was put on the warrant by the Ipswich Planning Board, after the town’s 1-acre rule created friction with some residents. The practice of keeping chickens has become “very popular” in Ipswich in the last two or three years, Building Inspector Jim Sperber said.

“I was going nuts wondering why we were having more issues with chickens in the past few years than we’ve had in my 15 years here,” he said.

Sperber, who started working in Ipswich in 1997, said he dealt with just a handful of complaints over chickens until the practice grew in popularity recently. Keeping chickens ties into the “eat local” movement; some families do it as an educational exercise with their children, he said.

Under the current bylaw, residents who want to keep chickens in less than 1 acre have to fork over a $150 filing fee to apply for a special permit with the town and attend a public hearing, for which their neighbors are notified. If granted, they have to file the permit at the Salem Registry of Deeds for $75.

Needless to say, the process drew complaints from some residents.

Article 6 was drafted by a committee that included the town’s health agent, animal control officer, zoning board member, the assistant building inspector, an expert on raising poultry and a resident who keeps chickens.

Sperber said he’s conferred with colleagues around the state, and they’re dealing with similar issues as keeping chickens grows in popularity.

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Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.

IPSWICH SPECIAL TOWN MEETING Monday, Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m. Ipswich High School, 134 High St. Meeting warrant is posted at www.ipswichma.gov