NEWS

Rooster ban clears panel; new hen rules put on hold

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 10/20/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE An ordinance seeking to bar the keeping of roosters in non-farm settings received the initial backing of City Council members last week, while an accompanying measure that would create new rules governing the keeping of chicken hens

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NEWS

Rooster ban clears panel; new hen rules put on hold

Posted

An ordinance seeking to bar the keeping of roosters in non-farm settings received the initial backing of City Council members last week, while an accompanying measure that would create new rules governing the keeping of chicken hens was pulled from consideration after its sponsor said there were “oversights” in its drafting.

The Ordinance Committee’s 5-1 vote in favor of Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli’s proposed rooster amendment, under the title “Roosters Prohibited,” came over some concerns from members of the public and calls to pursue a comprehensive, unified ordinance addressing the keeping of chickens. Such an ordinance was approved by the City Council in 2012, they noted, but was then vetoed by former Mayor Allan Fung.

Supporters of the rooster ban, however, argued that the rooster issue requires more urgent action, even as the ordinance regarding hens gets another look. A handful of residents addressed the council to say that roosters kept by neighbors have affected their quality of life through early-morning crowing and other issues.

“I see how this could go with the chicken ordinance, but I don’t think it necessarily has to,” said Renzulli, who sponsored both the rooster and hen proposals. “I want relief for the people who have been living with this [rooster] nuisance for years … I don’t want this to go six more months because we can’t pass the chicken ordinance, necessarily.”

Added Council President Chris Paplauskas: “I think we can separate the roosters and chickens … It’s a good step.”

Council Vice President Robert Ferri said he would support sending the rooster ordinance to the full council. But he cited the 2012 ordinance in urging his colleagues to consider a more comprehensive approach.

“We really need to take a look at what is already on paper. We’re not experts … We need to do this right,” he said.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly joined Ferri, Renzulli and Paplauskas in support of advancing the rooster ordinance. Vargas said she will continue to evaluate the proposal, however, and would not commit to supporting it when it goes before the full council later this month.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain, the sole dissenter on the committee, questioned the measure’s approach to the issue.

“To prohibit a constituent from owning something, I don’t think is the right way,” she said, calling instead for a greater focus on identifying nuisances and stepping up enforcement.

Other council members who don’t sit on the Ordinance Committee also took part in the discussion.

Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan said while he agrees there are parts of the city in which roosters should not be permitted, he favors a “comprehensive proposal on chickens and roosters and where they should be and where they shouldn’t be.”

“I’m conflicted … I’m not usually one to say this, but I think this is a time where we should pause for a moment, and rather than do this piecemeal … we do this together in a comprehensive manner,” he said. “There are clearly people from every side of the issue, with varying degrees and diverse opinions on the issue, with diverse experience on the issue, that can provide input, opinions and some expertise to get this right, rather than trying to do this tonight.”

Citywide Councilwoman Jessica Marino echoed Donegan, saying she would prefer a broader approach to the chicken issue.

“I sympathize with the plight of people that have roosters crowing, just as much as I would if someone had a dog barking in close proximity to your house,” she said. “And this is our job to be creative and come up with solutions as best we can. And if the goal is to eliminate that nuisance or whatever you’d like to call it, then it needs to be done in a responsible way. And I don’t see that we’ll be able to do that tonight.”

Marino said she is specifically concerned about the “legal implications of grandfathering” for those who already have roosters and the city’s ability to effectively enforce the ordinance amendment as proposed.

“It’s wonderful to tell the public that we’re going to cure your problem, but we can’t just go in rogue and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to take your rooster,’” she said. “We need to know the proper mechanism.”

Comment from members of the public was split between those in favor of swift action on a rooster ban and those who questioned the measure’s legality and effectiveness.

Anthony Paolino of Pippin Orchard Road told council members his family has been “suffering relentlessly” due to a neighbor’s crowing rooster since last year.

“This is a daily event for my family, and I’m sure there are others who are affected by it also,” he said, describing the rooster’s calls as “ear-piercing.”

Beth Nawrocki of Bryant Road said her family also deals with the sound from a nearby rooster at all hours of the day.

“It is no exaggeration, 4 o’clock in the morning,” she said, adding: “I just ask, where’s the common sense and decency? … I don’t understand anyone who can’t understand that this needs to be an ordinance as soon as possible.”

Others offered a different perspective. Drake Patten of Natick Avenue, a farmer, called it “fantastic” that the chicken hens ordinance had been pulled from consideration. She questioned the legality of the rooster ban given the provisions of the state’s Right to Farm Act, which allows for farmers to keep roosters by right. Adopting the rooster ordinance, she argued, is a “very risky position” for the city to take.

“That’s going to become a problem as far as farm rights, right to farm, etc.,” she said, adding: “A good and powerful chicken ordinance, which was passed by this council … would not allow roosters in a backyard situation. That makes sense. No one needs that, no one wants that. But it’s very important for the distinction to be made that farms can have roosters.”

Jess Salter of Vaughn Lane urged council members to reject the “blanket elimination of roosters in the city of Cranston” and instead develop a more nuanced and comprehensive ordinance that takes factors such as property size into account.

Stephen Angell, the City Council’s legal counsel, acknowledged the Right to Farm Act “needs to be observed here.” He suggested the council could successfully comply with it by adding language to the rooster ordinance.

He also noted that farmers are required to file plans outlining their operations with the Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture every 10 years, providing a mechanism through which formally recognized agricultural enterprises can be distinguished.

Paul McAuley, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Ken Hopkins, said the administration agreed with Angell’s view and is supportive of the rooster ordinance.

“I think if we follows these guidelines, we’re fine,” he said.

The chicken hens ordinance, which had also been set for consideration last week, was withdrawn from consideration at Renzulli’s request. It was only briefly referenced, with the councilwoman saying additional work would be done on the proposal before it is again brought before the council.

That ordinance amendment, under the title “Keeping of Chicken Hens,” read in part: “Only a person or entity whose land has been certified as farmland by [the state] … may possess a chicken hen.” It would also have limited the number of chicken hens to one per 800 square feet of lot area, with a maximum of six hens on any lot.

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