A Home Where the Hens Roam

July 12th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

I am sure there must be a heavily labored pun involved in a young Turk becoming a champion of chickens. I won’t try, but I do predict that Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo will handle this in a moderately anal retentive, bureaucratically acceptable way. Given that live chickens are for some unfathomable reason a zoning issue controlled by the Board of Appeals, that’s the best possible outcome.

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Sorry for the 2 to 3 hour delay from this morning/afternoon’s hearing. Fortunately Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin was there, along with at least one newspaper reporter. The former’s filing is here.

While the news would appear to be that Roslindale’s chicken ladies lost. They didn’t really, but they did have to continue to play the Boston Political Game. They are likely to prevail…with assistance from Consalvo.

The tale is worthy of a The Daily Show skit, including:

  • Boston regs read you can raise chickens if you get a health department permit
  • Pay your $50 for the permit application, wait, wait, get denied
  • Find that your neighborhood zoning (arbitrary with the effect of law) forbids Accessory keeping of animals other than laboratory animals (page 39)
  • Loud, smelly, feces heaping dogs and other pets are OK, but all farm animals are secretly excluded from the alleged permit system
  • Endorsements by all abutters are meaningless
  • You need to play the game of a Board of Appeals hearing to get a denial to advance

Consalvo is Councilor for the district that includes Hyde Park and a bit of Roslindale, the bit including Audra Karp and her wife, and formerly three hens. The chicken trio are in the Ashland yard of her father, who she says gets to keep the eggs although her family drops by for omelets.

You can read the detailed experience at Legalize Chickens in Boston.

At this point, I see that Consalvo (disclaimer: my district Councilor, whom I know) is going to fix it. He said he was working on doing that after the hearing today denying the couple’s zoning variance to bring the exiled hens back to Firth Road. Glum as I can be, I asked whether we were two or three years out for a solution. He figures one or less.

Of course, with machinations that would outrage a libertarian or small-government type, the underlying issues may not go away even then. First, consider what Consalvo IDs as the underlying problem — a health/animal control issue has been put under the control of the rules-are-rules types at zoning. While the board told the Globe that of course they were reasonable and that the decision on this case would occur at the hearing, the fix was in and that was so much Karp crap.

Even sympathetic Consalvo opposed the women’s appeal, as did the Mayor’s office. Both used the bureaucratic, impotent excuse that the city zoning policy put chickens in a forbidden class for that neighborhood. That’s the big duh in government.

The real solution is what Consalvo hinted at in his opposition comments. He followed Karp, who noted that she had contacted all of her neighbors within 300 feet, had letters of support from 42 of them, hundreds of petition signatures, and zero objections of anyone. Consalvo said that he had a folder with over 200 letters of support as well.

This is not some form of simple democracy.

To help understand the issue more clearly from the peculiar Boston perspective a member of Consalvo’s staff presented a sliver of Roslindale history. I searched the Globe archives (a half dozen for-fee articles; search rats, Roslindale and Samuel Wood) when I returned today to get the time frame as well. It was the early to mid-1980s. Back then, Roslindale was one of many Boston areas overrun with rats, rats and more rats.

Even though it turned out according to rat czar of the time, Sam Wood, that the pests came, played and stayed because a huge percentage of the public as well as restaurants left trash out, not in bags and in uncovered containers, the public was understandably freaked. In what might be a good ad for Scientology, many older residents are still engrammed, figuring it must have been farm animals, not themselves causing the problem. Hence, let’s oppose chickens, even if, as Karp says, she keeps the food in pest-proof containers and only sows small amounts of seed at a time.

robbwakHonestly, the folk objections to chickens — noise, food poisoning, smell and such are hooey. Reason is not the dominating factor here however. There’s the possibility of doing what Karp and her wife suggest, considering small numbers of chickens (no roosters, thank you very much) as pets.

For his part, Consalvo has applied his usual intense energy to this. He’s met with the chicken women, and with GreenRozzie and other advocates for them, as well as fielding anti-chicken types’ calls.

Had I been the chicken ladies, I would have been angry. Instead, they said they’d work the system to do what was necessary to get their hens back in town. Even after several of their neighbors praised the pair, said everyone loved seeing hens, applauded the self-sufficiency, and noting there was neither noise nor stink, Board member Michael Monahan expressed the preset tone of the body with a comment about theirs being “not the right house…not the right area.” That sounds like chicken shit to me.

Then again, Consalvo is a very reasonable guy, still energetic enough to pull on the levers of power as many times as it takes to get a prize. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get chickens taken away from zoning, where they have absolutely no business, but I bet he’ll broker a good deal.

Already, they have been examining the rules at places like New York City that allow and regulate fowl. Apparently, Vancouver’s system is a good model for us. You’d suppose it would be simpler, but let’s recall that somehow we let regulation of agrarian remnants of New England culture come under the BRA satraps. Rules are rules. They don’t really have to think. This is only one more piece of civic silliness.

In the end, the City Council is likely to chat up other, more rational cities’ chicken procedures, pick one or parts of several we can call our own, and pass an ordinance. I’ll bet on Consalvo to get it done.

Postprandial Update: The Globe has similar coverage to UH.

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2 Responses

  1. A & D says:

    Hmmm, chickenshit…now that you mention it, we did smell something funny in that room

  2. Harrumpher says:

    It must have been all those guys in suits and women in dresses on a hot day.

    Before, during and after, you were very calm. I wish you the best of success and that Consalvo does follow through.

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