DANVERS — The Board of Health voted 3-0 to adopt new health regulations to allow barnyard animals in town amid a growing national trend toward “responsible, small-scale agricultural protection,” after a public hearing Thursday night at the Danvers Senior and Social Center on Stone Street.
However, the new health regulations won’t resolve whether the Raesly family’s goats, Dean and Deluca, can remain in their Hobart Street enclosure, as the family’s house sits in a part of town which does not allow animal husbandry according to town zoning.
The health regulations are meant to regulate domesticated animals, such as goats, sheep, swine, and poultry, but not household pets or research lab animals.
These “Minimum Standards for the Keeping of Animals on Residential Premises” require those who want to keep domesticated animals to get a permit each year, and it spells out ways to prevent rats and rodents by requiring a written pest management plan.
Chicken coops and other structures would have to comply with town zoning, and the keeping of roosters, cockerels and nonexempt wild animals would be prohibited. Commercial farms do not need a permit under the regulations.
“We believe it’s a quality health regulation that should address any health issues that arise,” said Mark Carleo, the acting health director, noting that a lot of thought and research went into the drafting of the regulations.
While these regulations may solve how residents can keep pet chickens and goats without creating a public health nuisance, they will not resolve where in town domesticated animals can be kept. That’s something that Town Meeting in May would have to tackle.
The problem is that under a quirk in town zoning, animal husbandry is only allowed in Residence II zoning districts, but not in Residence I, which has minimum house lots of 10,000 square feet for a single-family homes, or in Residence III, which calls for minimum house lots of at least 30,000 square feet.
The quirk is Residence II has a minimum house lot size of 20,000 square feet, but animal husbandry is not allowed in the other two residential zones, including Residence III, which calls for larger house lots than Residence II does.
Where Dean and Deluca live, in Residence I, animal husbandry is not allowed, but you can keep goats, ducks, geese, cows, pigs and sheep one street over from where they live. It was pointed out during the meeting that this restrictive zoning has kept residents from keeping domesticated animals.
The move to change town zoning was sparked by the Raeslys, Timothy and Brittany Dupont-Raesly, who are fighting to keep Dean and Deluca, which they have been raising at their home for more than seven years.
In December, the Raeslys went before selectmen with a petition of 900 signatures asking the town to change zoning rules to allow for animal husbandry in the residential zone where they live. They wanted a zoning change at the February Special Town Meeting earlier this month, but town officials asked them to hold off so the town could study the issue and hold a public hearing before the Board of Health and craft new zoning rules for animal husbandry.
In 2017, a neighbor’s complaint to Building Inspector Richard Maloney led him to rule that keeping Dean and Deluca violated town zoning. The Raeslys appealed Maloney’s decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and this board upheld Maloney’s decision. The Raeslys then appealed this decision to Land Court
However, last year, the Raeslys lost their case in court when a judge ruled for the town. They have since filed a timely appeal in Land Court, according to Town Manager Steve Bartha.
However, aware that May Town Meeting might come up with a zoning solution, Bartha said he does not expect there to be any activity on this latest legal appeal until after that meeting takes place.
Carleo told the 15 or so residents who came out for the public hearing that the Board of Health as not dealing with zoning rules, only with health regulations. He said the Board of Health does not have a say in the zoning process.
Dupont-Raesly spoke out in favor of the new regulations.
“I’m doing everything that is listed here and it seems very reasonable, very manageable for a homeowner,” she said.
Jenna Newbegin had a problem with the regulations’ call for a permit fee and an annual permit, out of concern it might create a barrier to immigrants or low-income families with food insecurity from being able to feed themselves by growing food or keeping animals at home.
Carleo said the new health regulations were designed to encourage, not discourage, keeping of animals at home. The permitting process would allow the Board of Health to stay on top of how residents could safely keep chickens or goats by requiring them to submit a plan ahead of time on managing manure, storing feed and controlling pests.
You can see the new “keeping of animals” health regulations by going to: https://www.danversma.gov/animal-care/.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. Find us at 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 107, Danvers, Mass.