The Zoning Board of Appeals today denied a Roslindale resident's request to keep hens in her Firth Road backyard because city zoning codes expressly forbid poultry in Roslindale and Jamaica Plain - but nowhere else in the city.
City Councilor Rob Consalvo (Hyde Park, Roslindale), vowed to work with Audra Karp to change the regulations that now prohibit chickens in the two neighborhoods - they are allowed with a zoning special permit in other parts of the city. He said it seems to make little sense to have the zoning board, which normally deals with matters such as building heights and setbacks, to deal with animal issues. However, he acknowledged that could be a lengthy process, saying if this were a baseball game, we'd only be in the first inning.
Zoning board member Michael Monahan acknowledged a contradiction in city ordinances that says "pitbulls are OK, chickens are not," but he voted to deny a variance because the code is so explicit.
Karp got several chickens last fall, but city animal inspectors ordered them out, citing zoning for the neighborhood. She said the chickens are now at her father's place in hen-friendly Ashland.
"It was important for us to grow and raise our own food and know our food comes from," she said. Until the city ordered the birds out, she said they had a great life in Roslindale: Out in the morning to forage around the back yard, often under the admiring glances of neighborhood children enjoying the novel site. With no roosters, the coop was so quiet even Rebecca Gutman, who lives in a unit in the same building, said she couldn't hear them.
The board's vote came despite letters and petitions signed by a number of her neighbors and other people across the city. Consalvo said he reluctantly opposed their request for a variance only because he always opposes allowing anything expressly forbidden in the zoning code. He said he was unsure why Roslindale's zoning regulations had an anti-chicken proviso added when they were updated within the past few years.
One neighbor said she was concerned about hens as disease vectors and that they attract predators, including raccoons and opossums (Ed. note: Yep, opossums). Karp, however, said avian flu is just an issue for migratory birds and large commercial flocks and that people only have to worry about salmonells from factory-raised eggs, not from small flocks like hers. She said ten chickens produce less waste than a 40-lb. dog - and that their manure makes excellent fertilizer. Predators? Roslindale already had raccoons and coyotes, she said, adding the chicken feed was kept in special containers to keep rats out.
Ken Phillips of Greening Rozzie, said the chickens exemplified everything Mayor Menino wants in his effort to make Boston "the greenest city in the country." The mayor's office, however, joined Consalvo in opposing a variance because of the way the zoning code is now written.