I am very excited that the Mayor and the BRA are considering ways to rezone to assist agriculture in the city. However, I am concerned that the fears of a few vocal citizens are being allowed to drown out the groundswell of support for these initiatives. Particularly, I have been following the course of the Legalize Chickens in Boston folks and am dismayed to see on your website that the question of small animals was tabled last year. I am glad that this proposal is on the table for discussion this year. Again, it comes down to whether or not the City wants to promote agriculture or merely permit a few isolated show-pieces.
Thus, small animal husbandry should be allowed by right rather than as a conditional use. The Board of Health and other city and state agencies can create reasonable standards for the welfare of the animals and the public health and safety that can be incorporated into the zoning code to allow reasonable by right small animal husbandry. These zoning standards, along with the laws already in place regarding nuisance are certainly sufficient to remedy the few instances in which an urban farmer, gardener or householder violates animal welfare or health and safety standards.
In my experience, if you make the use conditional, a few zealous but misinformed individuals will have disproportionate power to stop or delay reasonable uses. Take the recent example of a household with a few ducks and chickens in Cambridge that was the subject of a recent Northeast Organic Farming Association Workshop on Backyard Poultry that I attended. According to Allison Fastman, one of the affected householders, despite the fact that the household gathered 90 signatures from neighbors supporting the use of a small backyard duck and chicken flock for fresh eggs, one adjacent neighbor with lot of unfounded fears about animals was able to convince the zoning board to force the household to remove the animals with just a few signatures. Assuming “a few” means less than 10, that means that 90 people were for the change and 10 people against. Why did the 10 prevail? – that is not democracy in action. Even if the adjacent landowner’s opinion was given some extra weight because of her proximity, it still seems that the right result was not reached. Rather than chickening out when a few vocal citizens make a noise (couldn’t resist the pun ) the city should take a principled stand and lead the people into a sustainable future. It may be that a public education campaign is needed. But it may also be that a few people will never agree with urban agriculture. Why should they win in the political process? They are far fewer in number and a sustainable future is what is needed. I have a few neighbors who still disagree with busing!
An example: Arlington recently approved a change in the zoning bylaw to allow residents to keep up to six hens. Arlington’s Board of Health oversees the permitting process and requires hen owners to secure their pens from predators and clean them at least once a week.